The growing chasm between Niti Aayog, the dream project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Central government’s agenda of inclusive governance arising out of persistent lack of mutual agreements on various key issues was the key factor behind Dr Arvind Panagariya’s ‘forced’ exit from the Centre’s principal economic and policy making think-tank, and not his claim that the Columbia University, US, had refused to extend his leave beyond August 31. “The leave extension story Dr Panagariya spread for the public consumption, which is miles away from the truth. When the NDA government picked him up for the role of Niti Aayog Vice Chairman, he had been explained that he would continue so long as his services are required. There were several palpable reasons, which had necessitated his exit from Niti Aayog,” said sources, privy to the development.
They said that even the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS), especially Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) were unhappy with Panagariya. The key leaders of these RSS affiliates were of the view of that Panagariya was pushing the agenda of corporate would at Niti Aayog, a charge which they had even taken up with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sources said that already struggling to cope with the allegations about the NDA government’s pro-corporate stance, Prime Minister Modi too wanted to get rid of Panagariya at Niti Aayog of which he himself is the chairman.
Sources said that Niti Aayog’s report on genetically modified (GM) crops and mustard crop in particular was found to be in conflict with the core policies of the RSS whose affiliates are dead against the promotion of GM crops in the country in the name of ensuring food security. “A kind of alarm bell was set ringing at Niti Aayog, when Dr Panagariya was found engaged in recommending discreet selling of public sector undertakings (PSUs), which was finally reflected in a full-fledged report on the condition of PSUs. The report, however, did not impress the government, which found Niti Aayog’s entire exercise full of flaws, hollow and bereft of quality research efforts,” they said.
As claimed by top sources, Dr Panagariya had even suggested the shutdown of PSUs working in sectors such as waterways, healthcare, where Prime Minister Modi was showing interest. “It was getting increasing crystal clear that Panagariya was not in sync only with India’s ground realities, but was also trying to function in an independent manner, going beyond his official briefs. He pushed taxing farm income when the country was burning with farm issues, which embarrassed the Centre like anything,” they said. In fact, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had to clarify many times that there was no move to tax rich farmers in the country. “Similarly, Niti Aayog under him presented the case of doubling farming income and elimination of poverty by 2032, but both reports were presented with poor research. These were based on the data disputed by the RSS and the BJP during the UPA regime,” said the sources.
It is being also said that Panagariya had no fan club in the RSS, BJP or the Central government. A group of members at Niti Aayog too were up in arms against him. In his parting shot, Panagariya, Indian-American who joined as the first vice chairman of Niti Aayog in January 2015, told journalists in New Delhi on Tuesday that he wanted to complete Seven-Year Strategy Paper and 15-year Vision Document, but the task would now have to be done by his successor. “These documents were 80-85 per cent ready,” he said. Panagariya, a close associate of noted trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati, was honoured with Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian honour India bestows in any field, in March 2012.