It's a shame Arvind Panagariya quit Niti Aayog over politics
The top economist found himself isolated in terms of ideology and political backing.
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What could have possibly transpired to get one of the most renowned economists, an original flag bearer of the Modi model of development and governance, a free trade advocate to resign from the organisation created to steer policymaking in India?
Panagariya's entry into the world of policymaking was a bit delayed; while a strong contender, he was appointed as vice chairman of Niti Aayog several months after the Modi-led government was sworn into power. For the first many months, Ashoka Hotel in Delhi was home for Panagariya.
He was enthused about the idea of working with a government that had stormed into power with such a thumping majority and, most importantly, this was a government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The understated, soft spoken, erudite Arvind Panagariya had been one of the first flag bearers of the Gujarat model of development. He was a vociferous supporter of minimum government, privatisation, direct targeting of subsidies and so on.
He often took on economists like Jean Dreze on the viability and success of schemes such as MGNREGA - the state-run employment guarantee programme promising employment and basic wages to those at the bottom of the pyramid.
He was one of the few in the government who could take down his predecessor Montek Singh Ahluwalia and former finance minister, P Chidambaram, on data and economics.
A firm believer in the power of entrepreneurship, he was one of the few voices who gave the Gujarat model of development a lot of credibility.
As vice chairman of Niti Aayog, he pitched for disinvestment of state-owned PSUs, he was also one of the early proponents of privatising Air India, he was behind some of the most far reaching, pro-industry labour reforms taken by the Rajasthan government - for which he faced vehement criticism for being anti-labour, from the economic arm of the RSS, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch.
He was enthused by the idea of working with a government led by Modi government. Photo: PTI
He had worked on the bill which would usher in a set of reforms, overhauling the regulation of medical education in India and revamping the graft-ridden Medical Council of India.
A big proponent of PM Modi's original slogan of governance with "minimum government", under him the Niti Aayog worked towards scrapping more than 60 outdated laws.
He was one of the few to emphasise the need for more robust jobs data that reflected the changing dynamics of the Indian economy.
What he perhaps failed at was managing perceptions and politics, which distanced one of the few economists in this government from the power centre. Even with a Cabinet minister rank, he was not invited to attend Cabinet meetings; moreover, his relationship with the prime minister remained somewhat frosty as compared to his predecessor Montek Singh Ahluwalia's with then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
What perhaps further aggravated the divide was that star bureaucrat, Amitabh Kant was brought in as CEO. His liberal brand of economics didn't go down well with the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, which even conducted a review of the workings and policies of Niti Aayog earlier this year.
Even as Panagariya took a break from academia to work with PM Modi in redefining India's developmental economics, he found himself isolated in terms of ideology and political backing.
Losing Pangariya from the sphere of policymaking is clearly a loss of one of the finest minds to petty politics.
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