Meet Rajiv Kumar, new vice chairman of NITI Aayog
Rajiv Kumar takes over as new vice chairman of NITI Aayog.Updated: Sep 01, 2017 12:27 IST
New vice chairman of the federal think tank, NITI Aayog, economist Rajiv Kumar had gone into an overdrive to defend the government and particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi over demonetisation and slowdown of the economy.
Kumar’s defence of demonetisation comes amid sharp criticism of Modi’s Novermebr 8 move from various quarters, after the Reserve Bank of India’s revelation on Wednesday that of nearly 99% of the banned banknotes was returned to bank. On Thursday, official data revealed that GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017-18 was down to a three-year low of 5.7%
Kumar took over on Friday from Arvind Panagariya -- who abruptly ended his tenure asking to be relieved to return to academics – and is the second economist to become vice chairman of the Aayog since it replaced the Nehru-era Planning Commission in January 2015. Prime Minister Modi is the think tank’s chairman and closely monitors its functioning.
Just like Panagariya, Kumar too is a firm believer in Modinomics and the books and articles he has authored underline the admiration for Modi’s Gujarat model and his sharp focus on economic development as prime minister. But unlike Panagariya, Kumar spent most of his professional life in India – with stints as senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, as CEO of the economic think tank ICRIER and in top positions at industry bodies FICCI and CII. His understanding of the industry and rapport is expected to come handy in furthering the government’s plan to partner with the industry in job creation for which NITI is the coordinating agency.
In a comment piece for Hindustan Times, Kumar argued that the “single statistic” being used by critics is far removed from the ground reality. His argument is in complete consonance with the defence offered by the government on Friday listing the benefits of demonetisation.
“Given that there are 18 lakh accounts with dubious deposits with cumulative deposits of over Rs 3 lakh crore, the swamp of black money has been largely drained,” Kumar wrote in HT. Later in the day, he appeared in two separate TV debates on demonetisation and defended the move for bringing down inflation and real estate prices.
His predecessor Panagariya had, at the time Modi was being crticised for jobless growth, chosen a more nuanced approach rather than defending the government. Panagariya said it was underemployment and not unemployment that was the problem. But in his last days at the think tank, Panagariya began admitting that job creation is a huge challenge.
Kumar said on Thursday night in a TV programme that the think tank’s focus will have to be on “employment, employment and employment”, underscoring the importance of the challenge at hand.
Another challenge for him remains dealing with the BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates. The Swadeshi Jagran Manch has been sharply critical of the think tank for pushing GM crops. The Bharatiya Kisaan Sangh and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh at different points have dubbed the NITI Aayog anti-poor, anti-farmer and accused it of pushing jobless growth.
Mounting criticism from the Sangh affiliates is believed to have catalysed Panagariya’s exit from the think tank. “These have been the most satisfying two years and eight months of my professional life,” Panagariya told HT in his final week at the think tank.