Prime Minister Narendra Modi set up the National Institution for Transforming India, or the Niti Aayog, as a key venture in the dismantling of the Nehruvian heritage. Evidently, all is not well with this body. The first man to lead the newly-created think tank, Arvind Panagariya, resigned as vice-chairman of Niti Aayog on Tuesday, keen to return to his post as professor at Columbia.
Dr Panagariya’s officially stated reason — that the university won’t keep his old post vacant much longer — does not quite wash. Was he not aware of the terms of his engagement there when he came to India to head the outfit with such an important remit — no less than to preside over the liquidation of the ancient regime and to animate an institutional body charged with making an India of Mr Modi’s dreams?
What appears more probable is that the economics professor went away because he realised that he was holding a non-job. No one was listening to the recommendations of the think tank he headed. Unlike the Planning Commission, the Niti Aayog had no powers to direct the channelling of resources to approved projects. Although its vice-chairman had the rank of cabinet minister, Dr Panagariya did not attend cabinet meetings. The PM himself did not bother with him much.
Given this backdrop, it’s unlikely an economist of any distinction will take up the job now. May be the idea was just to wind up Planning Commission — and that’s about it.