New Niti Aayog V-C criticised Anglo-American influence on Indian policy-making.
New Delhi: Just like his predecessor Arvind Panagariya, noted economist Rajiv Kumar who next month will take over as the second vice-chairman of Niti Aayog, likes to maintain a low profile.
However, his experience with industry bodies and also of working with the government in the past will come in handy while navigating the functioning of the government think tank, which from its earlier avatar of Planning Commission, is now more of an advisory body to the Narendra Modi-led dispensation.
Mr Kumar has been a critic of the so-called Anglo-American influence on Indian policy making, accusing Indian-American experts hired by the government of being unaware of the Indian ground realities.
He himself has been in the firing line of observers who have noticed intense flip-flop in his stands on crucial issues. For example, the Niti Aayog that he is planning to join now was dismissed by him, in an article two years ago, as an institution that lacked statutory authority and well-defined rules of business.
In one of his newspaper articles, elaborating his vision of a swadeshi patriot-technocrat, he claimed economists like former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan and Mr Panagariya were not committed enough due to which they allegedly ran away from responsibilities before completing their tenures.
While Mr Panagariya did not have prior experience of dealing with the Centre directly, as he is primarily an academician and will be returning to his job as professor of economics at Columbia University next month, Mr Kumar was associated with the ministry of industries between 1989 and 1991. He was also an economic advisor with the finance ministry in the Narasimha Rao government between 1992 and 1995.
Mr Kumar will have to negotiate with the NDA government tactfully as Mr Modi is the chairman of Niti Aayog and he will have to report to the Prime Minister directly.
Mr Panagariya cited his university’s refusal to extend his leave as the reason behind his decision to step down as vice chairman of the think tank, however, sources said that Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant’s greater proximity with the PMO and his involvement in almost all important decisions on government schemes like Digital India and Atal Innovation Mission, had overshadowed the role of the vice chairman.
In such a scenario, Mr Kumar, who has been a senior fellow with the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), will have to play his cards deftly and ensure a perfect harmony with his colleagues at Niti Aayog. It will be a challenge to see how a low profile Mr Kumar manages to bring the post of the vice chairman to the forefront despite the presence of Mr Kant, who is considered media-savvy and close to Prime Minister.
The think tank’s vice chairman-in-waiting has earlier been the secretary general of the industry body Ficci.
He had taken over from Amit Mitra in May 2011, when the latter left New Delhi to take charge as West Bengal’s finance minister after Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress came to power in the state.
Mr Kumar remained with Ficci till October 2012. He was also the chief economist with another industry body CII.
Mr Kumar holds a DPhil in economics from Oxford and a Ph.D from Lucknow University. He was director and chief executive of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, and was also associated with the Asian Development Bank. He is also a government nominee to the central board of India’s largest public sector lender, the State Bank of India. Currently, he is the chancellor of the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, in Pune. Apart from this, he is also the founder of the Pahle India Foundation, a non-profit organisation that works in the field of policy research.
The economist was a member of the National Security Advisory Board between 2006 and 2008.
Mr Kumar is also a member of boards of several international and national institutions, including the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center in Riyadh, the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia in Jakarta, and the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi.