CHENNAI: Dr. Rajiv Kumar comes to the NITI Aayog on the strength of wide experience with several think tanks and lobby groups such as the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), and the Pahle Indian Foundation. At NITI Aayog his mandate is to chart out a course for the economy that will pass muster with the voters in 2019.
Here are some positions taken by the low-key personality on the major economic and political questions of the day.
On Narendra Modi
In his 2016 book titled Modi and his Challenges, Rajiv Kumar says it would be too simplistic to say that Narendra Modi is only a proponent of the RSS ideology. “A simplistic understanding of Modi as an RSS pracharak or as driven exclusively by personal ambition is highly misleading,” Kumar says. Modi style of functioning is individualist and centralised while the RSS style emphasizes teamwork, he notes.
On the Godhra riots
Rajiv Kumar puts up a strong defence of Narendra Modi’s role during the 2002 Godha riots in his book on the man. He criticised the media for saying that law enforcement agencies let culpable ministers in the Modi cabinet go scot free after the Godhra riots. In fact, he says, more than 100 politicians were arrested. He does not also fail to point out that Modi was absolved of any involvement in the riots by a special investigation team, and that his victory in the 2014 general election was: “an endorsement by the people.”
However, he also wrote, “There are instances which raise a doubt about his (Modi’s) commitment to a purely developmental and non-communal agenda. This impression is reinforced by his unwillingness to publicly criticise those who revel in communal rants.”
Kumar was an early supporter of Narendra Modi’s demonetization. A day after its rollout on Nov. 8, 2016, he wrote in an opinion piece in Quint: “With the de-monetisation of high denomination Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes… the Prime Minister has burnished his anti-black market credentials beyond any conceivable doubt.” He also, interestingly, termed the new Rs 2000 note as ‘hi-tech’. This affirmation came at a time when the pink note had given rise to rumours that it was equipped with a GPS tracker and an encoded chip.
On India’s economic growth
Rajiv Kumar was not entirely convinced when the world crowed that India was the fastest growing economy. In an article for the East Asia Forum, commenting on the GDP estimates announced on 2015, Kumar noted, “The growth in gross value added recorded in these estimates overstates India’s actual economic performance.” He said although manufacturing growth was said to be over 7 per cent, the Index of Industrial Production stood at minus 2 per cent. “This discrepancy,” he said, “reflects significant weakness in the corporate sector, which by all accounts is not generating new jobs.”
On farm loan waivers
Like many supply side economists, Rajiv Kumar views loan waivers as write-offs meant to secure a party’s interests in a state. In that article on the East Asia Forum, he said, “Yogi Adityanath is treating his maiden tenure as chief minister like a two-year term and aims to deliver tangible results by 2019. This is understandable. The BJP needs to show significant progress in Uttar Pradesh before 2019 as success in the state is a must for retaining power in Delhi.” He said waivers bring temporary relief to farmers who are likely to “find themselves in unmitigated poverty immediately thereafter.” Kumar noted that UP wasn’t in a position to finance the waiver since its fiscal deficit stood at 4.45 per cent of GSDP, double the average fiscal deficit for other states in India.
On Yogi Adityanath
“The outcome of the recent UP elections giving a four-fifths majority to the BJP and the installation of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister is seen as the maturing of Indian democracy,” wrote Kumar in an opinion piece for Daily Mail. He also said, “To argue that the election of Yogi Adityanath reflects a counter-democratic trend or foretells the demise of true democracy in India, is to question the voters’ constitutionally enshrined right in a democracy.”
On Amartya Sen
Right after demonetisation was announced, Rajiv Kumar tweeted, “Amartya Sen calls demonetization as despotic on NDTV. Elitist edicts with zero consequence & really anti-people. Barkha why air these views?” The fact that Rajiv Kumar and Sen don’t see eye to eye is further clarified in his article for Daily Mail. Criticising Amartya Sen and former prime minister Manmohan Singh for harbouring ideological biases, Rajiv Kumar demanded an apology from them for their comments on demonetisation.
On the US presidential election
During the US presidential election campaign, Rajiv Kumar was all for Hillary Clinton. He said the ‘best bet’ for Clinton would be to offer the vice-presidency to the other Bernie Sanders because anti-establishment Democrat voters were threatening to switch allegiance to Trump.
On rape and political action
When a BBC documentary on the Nirbhaya rape was banned in 2015, Rajiv Kumar wrote in a blog that rather than banning it, the issues raised by it should have been addressed. He urged political leaders to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s example of leading movements against social evils rather than “just leave this to civil society organisations which politicians will subsequently perceive as agent provocateurs.”