By Prarthana Mitra
Anyone in the North Block which houses the country’s finance ministry can tell you that it is not easy to get in the good books of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. However, Chief Economic Advisor (CEA), Arvind Subramanian, who announced his resignation on Tuesday, had friendly relations with a lot of top bureaucrats, despite being a harsh critic of the radical shift in the Indian economy over recent years, from “crony socialism to stigmatised capitalism.”
All you need to know about the outgoing CEA
An academic and economist based out of the United States, Subramanian expressed his decision to return to “research and writing” after three and a half years of public service. A highly opinionated maverick who was handpicked by the Modi government in 2014, Subramanian lacked the tight upper lip unlike most of his colleagues and seniors in the ministry.
Subramanian was outspoken about a lot of controversial economic policies and talked at length about the attempted reform of the twin balance-sheet, conceptualised JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Mobile), revenue neutral rate for GST, rationalisation of removal of “subsidies for the rich”, the heavily leveraged corporate sector, universal basic income, climate change, and focus on public spending to accelerate the economy. His philosophical summation of the latest Economic Survey in January shed crucial light on attitudes shaping the Indian economy at large.
Yet he reportedly had a special line to Arun “dream boss” Jaitley, who praised Subramanian’s unique approach to diplomacy in a recent blog post, saying, “Arvind’s interaction with the Government in the Ministry of Finance, Prime Minister’s Office and with other departments was both formal and informal.”
Profoundly grateful & humbled by these extraordinarily generous words by Minister @arunjaitley announcing my decision to return-for personal reasons-to researching & writing. CEA job most rewarding, fulfilling, exciting I have ever had. Many many to thank:https://t.co/kwsRqDrMTB
— Arvind Subramanian (@arvindsubraman) June 20, 2018
Questions regarding who will replace him were promptly dismissed by highly-placed sources in the ministry. However, the question has certainly been on everyone’s minds, especially since Sanjeev Sanyal already serves as the Principal Economic Advisor to the Ministry of Finance.
On the CEA chair since 2014, Subramanian had stepped into the shoes of his predecessor Raghuram Rajan who had vacated the seat for a year after his appointment as RBI governor. Subramanian’s three-year term was set to end in October 2017 when he was expected to return to the US where his family resides and to resume his position as the Dennis Weatherstone Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington. However, last September, Subramanian was given a one-year extension which he ends ten months in advance.
Why you should care
“It is interesting how the Union government’s econocrat troika have taken their leave one after the other. Raghuram Rajan left in 2016, Arvind Panagariya followed him the year after, and now we have Arvind Subramanian leaving as well,” said Amartya Chowdhury, a postgraduate from Ambedkar University Delhi. Chowdhury mulls over the coincidence adding, “The people around whom the haloed ‘Brand Modi’ economic project was pitched in 2014 are gradually leaving him, one at a time.”
The CEA advises the Government of India on matters related to finance, commerce, trade and economy, based on research studies on economic policies and management, after examining domestic and international economic trends. Many of Subramanian’s suggestions were sidelined and ignored which is believed to be behind the mass exodus of “pedigreed, internationally acclaimed economists from the nation’s service.”
With Subramanian poised to return to academics, we can hope to get an incisive and cerebral glimpse into the Indian economy, from someone who has witnessed its workings from inside.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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