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Arvind Subramanian: India's man in DC

business Updated: Oct 16, 2014 19:26 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Arvind Subramanian

“How do your pronounce your name?”

“Arvind Subramanian as Indians would say, or Subramaaanian (stressing the a-sound) as American would say,” said the India-born expert, injecting rare levity into a rather staid hearing.

India was in the dock and Subramanian was leading its defense at a hearing by the US International Trade Commission, and one of the commissioners wanted to get his name right.

Subramanian, a familiar figure on DC think-tank circuit, became a sounding board for other commissioners at the hearing, as they turned to him repeatedly for clarifications.

That was a bad time for India. Its trade policies, and intellectual property rights regime were under unrelenting attack by critics led by the powerful US chamber of commerce.

India fought back through its own lobbyists. But as a sovereignty issue, it would not depose before US bodies — the USITC or the US Trade Representative later.

Subramanian, an expert with the Peterson Institute of International Economics, and a host of other academics and some activists stepped forward on India’s behalf.

“Arvind was really effective,” said an Indian official, about his deposition at the USITC hearings that had continued for two days because of the crush of those wanting to depose.

The commission’s report, which is due any time now, will prove how effective Subramanian and others were, but, they had clearly turned it into a battle, at the least.

“As an economist, he is no ivory tower academic; he has spent his entire career toiling at the intersection of public policy and scholarship,” said Carnegie’s Milan Vaishnav.

The two of them have shared the stage at many discussions on India. And Subramanian, who went to St Stephen’s College in Delhi, has clearly been very impressive.
And effective. “Also I will claim a modest role in helping to achieve this outcome — I am referring to my testimony on this issue last month,” Subramanian said in a mail earlier this year.

The “outcome” he referred to was US Trade Representative’s Special 301 report for 2014 that did not designate India the worst trade offender as demanded by its critics.