The UPA government seems to have a fascination for US-trained economists. With the elevation of Raghuram Rajan as the 23rd governor of the Reserve Bank of India, the post of chief economic adviser to the finance ministry lies vacant. There are four contenders for the post, all from India but trained in the US.
The first candidate is Jahangir Aziz, senior Asia economist and India chief economist at JP Morgan Chase. He did an eight-month stint in India in 2008 as an advisor to the finance ministry and has also been an economist at the International Monetary Fund.
Ajay Chibber, who is at present UN assistant secretary-general and UNDP’s regional director for Asia and the Pacific, is something of a dark horse. Owing to his strong credentials, his name had come up earlier too when the ministry was looking for a success to Kaushik Basu. At that time, the selection panel headed by the PM’s Economic Advisory Council chairman, Dr C Rangarajan, had shortlisted his name along with that of Rajan.
Chhibber is a World Bank official and has worked at the Planning Commission in the past. He has also been a lecturer in economics at the University of Delhi. He took up his current assignment at the UN in July 2008. He holds a PhD from Stanford University and a Masters from Delhi School of Economics.
Apart from Aziz and Chibber, in the running is Arvind Subramanian, an economist who is at present the Dennis Weatherstone Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development. Subramanian specializes in growth, trade, development, institutions, aid, oil, India, Africa, the WTO and intellectual property.
Highly-qualified Subramanian advises the Indian government in different capacities, including as a member of the finance minister’s expert group on the G-20. His book India’s Turn: Understanding the Economic Transformation is a well-received treatise on India’s emergence on the world economic map. An alumnus of St Stephen’s College, Delhi, he has an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, an M.Phil and D.Phil from Oxford.
The fourth contender, Gita Gopinath, is a tenured professor at Harvard University’s high-brow economics department. She is the third woman ever and the second Indian, after Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, to receive such as honour. She has a PhD from Princeton University for which she was mentored by Ben Bernanke, currently chairman of the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States. She is a graduate of Lady Sriram College and Delhi School of Economics.
With the Budget-making process for 2014 already underway, the key post has to be filled as soon as possible. The government will need expert advice before the interim Budget is tabled before this government demits office in May 2014.
In any case, the government is keen to fill the key post immediately, especially keeping in mind the current state of the economy and the steps that need to be initiated to pull the economy out of the web of crisis. Rescuing India from a crippling industrial slowdown and tackling the free-falling rupee and the drying up of foreign investment are just some of the issues that the new advisor will need to look at.