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  Books   15 Oct 2023  How the PM, PMO Decide on Finance Ministry Affairs

How the PM, PMO Decide on Finance Ministry Affairs

THE ASIAN AGE. | PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR
Published : Oct 15, 2023, 2:29 am IST
Updated : Oct 15, 2023, 2:29 am IST

As a bureaucrat, Subhash Chandra Garg adopts the view of the government

Coverpage of 'We Also Make Policy: An Insider’s Account of How the Finance Ministry Functions'.
 Coverpage of 'We Also Make Policy: An Insider’s Account of How the Finance Ministry Functions'.

This is an insider’s account and it is quite a bit about how the ministry functions. And it is much less about policy because there is not much debate about the pros and cons of a policy. As a bureaucrat, Subhash Chandra Garg adopts the view of the government. As an insider’s account, he reveals quite a lot than many other bureaucrats in similar accounts have done. He shows for the first time, how
personalities play a role, and how the interaction between people is what makes for the day-to-day functioning, how the pet beliefs and peeves of the players come into play.

And he does not confine himself to writing about interactions and reactions of fellow-bureaucrats. He talks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former finance minister Arun Jaitley, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, former principal secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Nripendra Mishra, former Reserve
Bank of India governor Urjit Patel and former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, their attitudes, gestures, reactions. At a time when it seemed impossible to know the tenor of the Modi government, he records the actual timbre of the participants. He records without rancour the negative responses, and without much self-congratulation the positive gestures. It rises above the
level of gossip because of this bureaucratic objectivity.

Garg was the secretary of economic affairs in the ministry of finance for two years, from 2017 to 2019, and he served under three finance ministers, Jaitley, Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal. He got along the best with Jaitley and he says that Jaitley allowed the officers to do their job. He did not at all get along well with Sitharaman, but he recognises her strong points, and he takes her dislike of
him and her belligerence towards which forced him to opt for voluntary retirement — he thanks her for this because it opened up his new career as a writer — in an objective fashion. And he is candid that he would not have liked to work with Piyush Goyal as a finance minister. His interactions with Prime Minister Modi moved along a fluctuating graph, where it started off with sarcasm for those
Indian bureaucrats who went on deputation to places like World Bank as Garg did — he was called back before his time was up — to one of trust for a while when Modi shared with him his priorities for the finance ministry was to promote digital payments and to shift the financial year to the calendar year, that is from January to December. He says that Modi turned cold in his interaction
with him from the beginning of 2019, and Sitharaman took over as finance minister after the Lok Sabha election. Garg is not too elated when the Prime Minister took him into confidence at the beginning, nor does complain that the Prime Minister had turned cold. But the fact that he states things as they are is a radical departure from the regular memoir of a bureaucrat.

Garg describes the denouement of his exit from the finance ministry. He writes, “For the first time, I was overtly told by Nripendra Mishra, ‘The Prime Minister is unhappy with you. The finance minister (Piyush Goyal) is unhappy with you. Subhash, you are not in tune with the thinking of the government.’” This was before the interim budget for 2019-20 was presented. And additional
principal secretary P.K. Mishra told him on July 18, 2019: “Subhash, you are a brilliant, hardworking, competent and a very committed officer, but you would need to be shifted from the finance ministry. The finance minister has met the Prime Minister a few times and has continuously complained against you. We cannot change the finance minister. Therefore, you will have to make
way.”

It is but natural that there should be friction among the many people in the government. No big organisation, especially the government, can work smoothly. But not many have noted it with the care that Garg has done in this book. And this is only a small part of what is happening inside the big machine that government is. What is interesting is that Garg does not point an accusing finger at any of them.

The one peculiarity that emerges from the story of inter-personal relations is that the ministers are seen complaining to the Prime Minister — in this case Goyal and Sitharaman complaining to Modi — and the diktat of the PMO on what should go into the Budget speech. Modi is a hands-on Prime Minister no doubt, and this has been evident through the nine years he has been in power. What
was lacking till now is the evidence. Garg has provided some of it.

We Also Make Policy: An Insider’s Account of How the Finance Ministry Functions

By Subhash Chandra Garg
HarperCollins
pp. 491; Rs 799

Tags: subhash chandra garg
Location: India, Telangana, Hyderabad