Female economist guesswork has babus in a twist
Has the infamous steel frame of the Indian bureaucracy turned into aluminium? The Modi Sarkar has emasculated the age-old veto and is deflecting tactics of our devious desk jockeys. For long they have been banned from the Lutyens’ Delhi dining and whining club. For the past five years they have been religiously attending office to deal with files and attend prescheduled meetings. If recently-retired officials are to be believed, the architecture of decision-making has changed faster than postings. Out with the traditional bottom-up movement of files, now it is top-down.
The decision making happens at the top and goes downwards for implementation. Previously the apathetic apparatchiks were privy to senior-level appointments. Now it’s only when the names are uploaded by DoPT at midnight on its website that they get a shock. Some hallucinating high ups simply indulge in guesswork at social gatherings. The current Kaffeeklatsch revolves around who’ll be the next Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) to the Finance Minister. Will the first-ever woman Finance Minister get a first-ever woman CEA? Will disruptionist Modi borrow an economist from the Brentwood Institutions or prefer a Bhartiya Arthshastri? The post has fallen vacant as the incumbent Krishnamurthy Subramanian is returning to the idyll of academia after completing his term next month.
The CEA post has been advertised. The male- dominated economists’ cabal has no clue about the workings of the PM’s labyrinthine mind. Three names are being bandied about in the corridors of power. On top of the gossip list is Dr Pami Dua, Professor at Delhi School of Economics. She was picked by the Modi government in 2016 as the first woman member of the RBI’s all powerful Monetary Policy Committee for four years. She is perhaps the only homegrown economist with credibility. Another desi economist in the reckoning is Poonam Gupta, Director General of the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) who was the RBI Chair Professor at National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. She has recently been appointed as one of the seven members of the reconstituted Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM).
However, some foreign-educated mandarins have floated the name of Gita Gopinath, 50, chief economist, IMF who leaves in January 2022. Like many previous CEAs, she is well connected with American academics and corporate captains. She has been quite conspicuous by her elegant presence frequently on Indian TV news channels talking more about pandemic economics than macroeconomics. Her American citizenship could stand in the way of her plum posting. However, the current Principal Economic Advisor Sanjeev Sanyal is the dark horse for his commitment to Hindutva Economics. A panel of three names would be decided by a Search Committee which is yet to be made public. The choice of the next CEA would indicate the ideological direction of the Budget 2022.
Videshi plus desi is good for economy
Prime Minister Modi is finally putting the Economic Think Tanks in shape. Last month he reconstituted his seven-member Economic Advisory Council (EAC-PM). According to the official website , the EAC-PM is a non-constitutional, non-statutory, independent body meant to advise the Prime Minister on macroeconomic and related issues such as inflation, microfinance and industrial output. It is expected to bring to the notice of the government vital economic developments which may affect economic growth. However, the composition of the EAC-PM headed by Bibek Debroy, a foreign-educated indigenous economist, indicates that Modi is serious about involving external technocrats with strong corporate relations to provide inputs for policy formulation. Four of the seven members are still working with private Indian and Foreign financial institutions, corporate houses and banks.
Babu drowns in Bengal culture shockwave
At first gander it may appear to be usual administrative action. But for gossip mongering babudom, Modi’s move is the first fallout of the BJP’s electoral pummeling in West Bengal. Last month, in a surprise development, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet abolished the post of CEO, Development of Museums and Cultural Spaces. It accepted the resignation of retired West Bengal-cadre IAS officer Raghvendra Singh from the post. As a part of the PM’s grand plans for the revival of Indian heritage, Singh was inducted in 2019 for a three-year term which was to expire in September 2022.
Previously, he was reemployed as Secretary, Culture for a year after his retirement as Secretary, Ministry of Textiles—unusual for a babu. According to inside scuttlebutt, the BJP leadership was convinced that Singh, a former aide of the late finance and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh would be a symbol of the saffron party’s cultural revivalism during the Bengal elections. He did upgrade various museums and was seen accompanying the Prime Minister during the latter’s visits to Kolkata. He was also tasked with converting the Teen Murti Marg Jawaharlal Nehru Museum into a museum for all former prime ministers. But after Modi appointed a Cabinet-rank Culture minister and two Ministers of State, they discovered that Singh’s performance wasn’t stellar enough. He couldn’t deliver even a fraction of what was expected from a culture vulture. After all, civil servants have a habit of falling faster than they rise under political patronage.
Overcrowded NITI-Aayog’s moment of reckoning
There is some chatter about reformatting the current utility of the NITI Aayog. After he came to power, PM Modi had replaced the Planning Commission with the Niti Aayog, which was supposed to move faster on future planning and ensuring ease of business and responsive governance by evolving cooperative federalism. It was expected to hold frequent meetings in which all chief ministers would actively participate. But the body has convened only six times in the past six years.
There is a feeling in power circles that the NITI Aayog is dominated by outsiders in the form of partners in various sectoral reforms. It is a cavalier constellation of advisors, senior advisors and consultants assisted by numerous professionals — an ostentatious outfit that talks more and does very little, parties more and plans even less. In official circles NITI Aayog is famous as Index Construction Consortium. It has introduced controversial Index for measuring the success of everything from schools, colleges, districts, hospitals and smart cities. How was an index created, is still a mystery.
The Prime Minister has already appointed an expert committee to do a serious review. Early this year the Prime Minister had asked Adil Zainulbhai, Chairman of the Quality Control Council of India to look at the entire NITI Aayog structure and mandate and suggest any modifications. He was appointed to head the Quality Control Council of India by Modi in September 2014. Zainulbhai is an IIT-Bombay graduate and a post-graduate from Harvard Business School. According to published reports he was associated with US multinational firm McKinsey for over three decades and retired as head of its Indian operations. But the decision to dump or retain NITI Aayog in its current form would be taken only after the conclusion of Assembly elections.
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