Who is Indian, who is foreign? Case of Indian economic policy advisors..

Another sudden exit of an Indian policymaker and again there are cries of what led to the move: What was the reason? Government Pressure or Career move?

The fire was further fueled by a piece from Rajiv Kumar the new chief of Niti Aayog. His piece came on 7 August and his appointment was confirmed on August 5. He could have taken off the piece but nevertheless.

He says there is a need to free the country from influence of foreign trained economists. He actually suggests that one could see more resignations from some more prominent names in coming days! It is also interesting that the piece appeared in the Hindi daily Dainik Jagran..

The piece led to some fireworks:

A war of words over foreign influence on Indian policymaking broke out on Tuesday after NITI Aayog vice-chairman-designate Rajiv Kumar suggested in a newspaper column that Indian-American economists were fading away as part of the ongoing policy transformation in the government. 
Kumar had referred to the exit of incumbent NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Arvind Panagariya and former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan, and wrote that “if Lutyens’ Delhi rumours are to be believed, more such resignations can come”. Kumar also said that as a result of this transformation, the country might witness appointment of individuals with much better understanding of India’s ground realities. 
While Bibek Debroy, Kumar’s future colleague in the NITI Aayog, took to Twitter to echo his view, former chief statistician and principal director in the erstwhile Planning Commission Pronab Sen questioned Kumar’s conclusion. “The foreign influence wanes, So read the weather vanes. Filthy lucre of a foreign land/ Has sullied many a hand/ And fogged the brains,” Debroy tweeted.
The tweet got an avalanche of response and the sarcasm was evident. Washington-based Sadanand Dhume responded: “All this is very well/ But it’s hard to sell/ Cambridge as a native school/ Oxford as a gurukul/ How some manage, pray tell.”   Kumar did his D.Phil from Oxford, and Debroy was in Cambridge. 
So much for the ironies. Further:
Author Ravi Mantha wrote, “Rushed back from distant shores / to join the rushing tide./ Stepped into manure for an uncertain tenure./ But luckily kept our foreign sinecure.”
Sen, now country director for the International Growth Centre’s (IGC) India Central Programme, was more straightforward in his response. “I don’t think it is an issue of whether home-grown economists are better than those who have worked abroad. To me the real issue is what your axiomatic approach to economics is.”  “Even best of the so-called home-grown economists were trained in the same pattern and approach in which the foreign-return ones were trained,” he added. 
Sen said there was no approach to economics which had been developed solely in India, except perhaps Kautilya’s ‘Arthashastra’. He said those who studied in Delhi University used the same paradigms to economics as those in Harvard did.   “No good applied economists will sell or propagate his theory about a country until and unless he has aptly studied the economy of that country. Now, how long that study has to be is open to interpretation,” Sen said.

Hmm.. It is true that Indian economy has not developed any thought as such but that is because for most part when economic thoughts developed elsewhere we struggled with colonialism. What is problematic is to see how understanding Indian economic history and conditions is not seen as important anymore.

What is also ironical is how economic policymaking is seen as such a prestigious thing in India and media keeps puffing such jobs. Whereas what much of economics teaches is to limit the role of government in whatever ways possible. We should be seeing more of these bright names writing cautioning about government and not really joining the government. In most countries, top economists of respective countries (atlest those economies who we seek to emulate) are from university/think tanks. In India, they are all policymakers…


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