AT THE HELM
INITIn almost three years of its existence,
(National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog has seen a second vice-chairman in Rajiv Kumar. The noted economist took charge of the government think-tank last month, replacing Arvind Pangariya, yet another noted economist.
The appointment of Mr Kumar, who until recently was chancellor of Pune-based Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, has sparked a debate about how foreign-trained economists have failed to understand the real India and its problems. The debate, in fact, was triggered by an article by Mr Kumar in a newspaper, making a scathing attack on IndianAmerican economists, who have been fading away as a part of the ongoing policy transformation in the government.
Without naming Raghuram Rajan, the former RBI governor, and Mr Panagariya, who quit their respective posts in rather controversial circumstances, Mr Kumar's article seemed to hint at them as fading, forics eign-trained economists. The raging debate apart, Mr Kumar too is incidentally a foreign-trained economist, having completed his DPhil in economics from the UK's Oxford University. He also holds PhD in economics from Lucknow University.
The new NITI Aayog chief's crit- could cite his recent utterances, such as an Indian perspective of development, as a ploy to please his political masters. However, that assessment would be rather harsh on Mr Kumar, who has been quite consistent with his views long before the top NITI Aayog post fell vacant.
He was one of the first economists to defend Prime Minister Narendra Modi's demonetisation. Mr Kumar has been a firm believer in Modinomics, and books and articles he has authored underline the admiration for Mr Modi's Gujarat model and his sharp focus on economic development as prime minister.
With extensive experience in shaping contours of public policy both in and outside the government, the NITI Aayog chief was earlier a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi. He was also founding director of Pahle India Foundation, a non-profit think-tank in the national capital.
Mr Kumar faces numerous challenges as he takes charge of NITI
Aayog, the think-tank set up by the Modi government replacing the Planning Commission. After taking charge, he was unequivocal in stressing on "employment, employment and employment" as his foremost agenda. Mr Kumar is certainly right as job creation will be vital for the Modi government's prospects in 2019 general election.
His diverse experience and vast social network within industry and the academia should come in handy for the new NITI Aayog chief. Apart from being a member of the National Security Advisory Board, he has worked at the Asian Development Bank and industry chambers CII and FICCI. He has also been CEO of economic thinktank ICRIER. His understanding of the industry and his rapport with it are expected to facilitate in furthering the government's plan to partner with the industry in job creation.
The foreign-trained economist with an Indian perspective could perhaps be the right man at the NITI Aayog.