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Economists beg Arun Jaitley for a 'job'

Gursharan Dhanjal, Editor, INCLUSION

Equating economists to a "trade union" who have been very active during the past two months for not being able to find any job in the government, Sanjaya Baru, former media advisor to past Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, hoped that the recent names circuiting the press circles turn out to be true. He wondered as much as the others including, Bibek Debroy and Rajiv Kumar as to why jobs are not being given to economists?

This comes in the wake of recent news reports that US-based economist Arvind Subramanian (not Panagariya) is tipped to be the country’s next Chief Economic Advisor. Baru was speaking at a function where Finance Minister Arun Jaitley released a book Exploding Aspirations: Unlocking India’s Future by economist Rajiv Kumar in presence of Bibek Debroy and a house full of other economists.

Jaitley did not rule out the importance of sound economic advise in the functioning of the government. He said, these people have a key role; they not only seek to act as advisors to policymakers, but also try to put ideas in their mind and try to shake them. Some get offended but some others welcome fresh ideas. Amongst these various suggestions and critiques, I try to discover some valuable additions to my knowledge and thought process, he added. He recommended the formation of independent think-tank by those who have the luxury of time and inclination to read, write and think.

Professional opinion has mattered more in the country in economic policy, particularly during two terms of the UPA government. The NDA government has shown no desperation to leap up to economic advisors. All eyes are now set on 26th August when Narendra Modi will visit Planning Commission, which may well cease to exist this date onwards. Chances are that it will be consigned to the annals of history paving the way for a new re-energised institution in an implementation role, with focus on strengthening centre-state relations than anything else. This aspect of centre-state relations, as Debroy mentioned, is conspicuously missing in Rajiv’s book. Perhaps because it is collection of randomly published newspapers articles from yesteryears, which may not be relevant anymore. While the book is about unlocking India’s future, it is a post-mortem of the UPA government rather than a prescription to Narendra Modi led NDA.  

Economists are a cohesive lot – a new generation trade union – one does not malign the other. Whatever wrongs that may have happened in the past, all have been cleverly attributed to the serving prime minister, whether, it was Indira Gandhi during the 1970s or Manmohan Singh, 40 years later.

If you have strong and decisive leadership capable of taking critical decisions, there may not be a strong felt-need for any advisors. There is plenty of talent within the government. A whole lot of senior government officers are doctorates and specialists in economics, public administration, sociology, political science and so on.

If with a poor level of governance, we could grow at 8 per cent and above, with better ‘governance’, the rate of growth that India is capable of achieving would be anyone’s guess. What great role could be there for a new generation "trade union"?

(Gursharan Dhanjal can be reached at gsd@skoch.in)

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