Thursday, August 10, 2017

Foreign trained economists

Newly appointed chief of Niti Aayog Rajiv Kumar's article about foreign-trained economists exiting their plum posts in the Indian government one by one has sparked a controversy. Kumar wrote:
A key transformation taking place on the policy front in the current central government led by Narendra Modi, is that the colour of foreign influence, especially Anglo-American, on the Indian policy making establishment that came in the last few decades, is fading away. Raghuram Rajan has already left. Now, Arvind Panagariya has also announced his resignation from his post ahead of his term being completed. If Lutyen’s Delhi rumours are to be believed, more such resignations can come. In their place, we may see experts being posted who understand India’s ground realities in a much better manner, and who can commit to stay and work till their term ends.
I guess the point is not just about whether those parachuted into top positions from abroad understand the Indian ground reality well enough. There's also the question of whether they can work with the bureaucracy and Indian businesses to produce acceptable solutions to problems. Another issue is whether they have the commitment to complete their tenure. Panagariya has quite after two years because he doesn't want to lose his tenure at  Columbia. Did he not think of this when he accepted the assignment?

The problem is not confined to economists. Former IIM Bangalore director Sushil Vachani quit two years into his job when he found the ministry was not willing to relax the retirement age of 65 for him. Those hiring from abroad should make one thing clear to prospective hires: if you don't have it in you to complete your tenure, please do not accept the position.

The best part of the controversy is that it has spawned some excellent versification:

Bibek Debroy: “The foreign influence wanes, So read the weather vanes. Filthy lucre of a foreign land/ Has sullied many a hand/ And fogged the brains,” 

Sadanand Dhume: “All this is very well/ But it’s hard to sell/ as a native school/ as a gurukul/ How some manage, pray tell.”

Author Ravi Mantha, “Rushed back from distant shores / to join the rushing tide./ Stepped into manure for an uncertain tenure./ But luckily kept our foreign sinecure.”