Arvind Panagariya: An early champion of Narendra Modi


The year was 1974 and a young man in Jaipur was at a crossroads. The BA graduate from Rajasthan University had admission offers from Princeton University, University of Chicago and Cornell University. But his father wanted him to stay in India and prepare for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) examinations.

Eventually, the young man choose Princeton University. And that is how the academic journey of Arvind Panagariya, renowned economist, academic and the first vice chairman of NITI Ayog began. His last day in office is 31, August. Over the years, Panagariya has served as the chief economist of the Asian Development Bank, written over 10 books and built a stellar reputation in his field of work.

A proponent of market economics, Panagariya was an early champion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In a 2013 article for Business Standard, Panagariya had argued in support of Gujarat’s performance in the field of industrialization, agricultural development and overall growth. He used data extensively to bolster his claims which included the controversial one that Gujarat boasted of the lowest poverty ratio for Muslims in rural areas. Interestingly, Panagariya was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2012 by the previous United Progressive Alliance government.

Born into a service class family in Jaipur, Panagariya has always been rather proud of his humble upbringing but he grew up in an environment where academic success was valued. In an interview to in 2012, Panagariya spoke about his father’s influence on him. “He…always stressed the importance of integrity. He was a self-made man and what I have learned from his life has shaped me considerably.” He even credited his father with influencing his choice of subjects (history, mathematics and statistics) in college.

His academic career has seen him teach economics at University of Maryland at College Park apart from stints at International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation. He is currently Professor of Economics and the Jagdish Bhagwati Professor of Indian Political Economy in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, New York. He is the first person to hold that chair. Both Bhagwati and Panagariya share a close relationship and have worked together on several projects including the book, India’s Tryst with Destiny: Debunking Myths that undermine progress and addressing new challenges in which they hailed the “Gujarat Model” of development.

NITI Aayog was set up in 2015 by the Modi government to factor in the views of state governments when it came to national economic priorities. Panagariya was appointed its first vice-chairman. It was only in April this year that NITI Aayog came out with a 15-year vision document that laid out clear economic goals for both state governments as well as the Union government.

And now Panagariya has resigned, ostensibly to return to a life of teaching. Comparisons with the resignation of former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan would have been inevitable but for the fact that Panagariya has always been an avid and vocal supporter of Prime Minister Modi.

Panagariya’s colleagues appreciate the way he valued their suggestions. Ramesh Chand, noted agriculture economist and member, NITI Ayog said he had a long experience of working with Panagariya even before joining NITI Aayog. “He always respected and valued my ideas on agriculture,” said Chand, who had worked with him earlier in the Prime Minister’s task force on agriculture. According to Chand, NITI Ayog is in a better position to chart out national development priorities than the erstwhile Planning Commission, which wielded more fund allocation powers. “With resources, we can achieve linear growth. For transformation, we need new ideas,” said Chand.