“Jaitley loves him, Jaitley loves him not!” has been a constant discussion in the corridors of the North Block that houses the Ministry of Finance, ever since the Chief Economic Advisor in the Finance Ministry, Arvind Subramanian, joined in October 2014.
In fact, the corridors of power were often abuzz with undercurrents between Subramanian and his friendly neighbours in the North Block -- top bureaucrats, as this economist who liked to be called a ‘maverick’ was not always diplomatic in his approach. Of course, in public both (the CEA and the bureaucrats) were “politically correct’’.
Unlike the tight upper lip attitude which the officers in Finance Ministry had, Subramanian’s approach was both formal and informal. Besides, a never heard of approach to work was to see the CEA sitting with his young team in one of the Starbucks outlets on a Sunday afternoon and working.
As Arun Jaitley also noted in his blog ‘Thank You Arvind’ -- “Arvind’s interaction with the Government in the Ministry of Finance, Prime Minister’s Office and with other departments was both formal and informal.”
In fact, many saw Subramanian as highly opinionated – which had its positives as well as negatives. Negatives as not everyone likes to be “dismissed abruptly’’.
Days, to come will of course see discussions on why he left? Whether Jaitley loves him or not? Was it political or personal? And whether someone will replace him -- since Sanjeev Sanyal is already there as Principal Economic Advisor to the Ministry of Finance? And finally whether we do need to import economists for key positions?
No sooner did Arun Jaitley’s blog ‘Thank You Arvind’ went public, a tweet from Ashwani Mahajan, National Co-convenor, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, read: “As CEA Arvind Subramanian resigns citing personal reasons, will move to US, @swadeshimanch requests @narendramodi ji to see that next incumbent should be one who has faith in farmers, workers and entrepreneurs of Bharat and is not on sabbatical.”
Subramanian is currently on leave for public service from his position as the Dennis Weatherstone Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington.
Last September, Subramanian was given a one-year extension and would have continued in office till October 2018. His three-year term was set to end on October 16, 2017. The buzz then was also that Subramanian was keen to leave for the US, where his family resides, but was requested to stay back.
His appointment as CEA had come after the post had been left vacant for almost a year -- since September 2013, when Raghuram Rajan was appointed as the Governor of the RBI.
Subramanian is the one who spoke about the twin balance-sheet, conceptualised JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Mobile), revenue neutral rate for GST, rationalisation of removal of “subsidies for the rich”, universal basic income, climate change, and focus on public spending as a means to spur the economy.
His ideas attracted strong reactions both from within and outside the Government. It will be interesting to see how he will look at India’s economy from outside. Will he remain as critical as he was or will he adopt a milder tone? Those who know him from the Indian Economic Service say, “Unlikely. He loves to throw ideas, generate debates, listens to all but has a mind of his own.”