Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his flock have begun the search for the country’s next chief economic adviser, or CEA, but the big names are playing hard to get. Nearly a fortnight after the invitation for applications, the nodal agency — the Ministry of Finance — hasn’t got an encouraging response.
Although the names of several economists — Rathin Roy, Sanjeev Sanyal, Nagesh Kumar, Surjit Bhalla, et al — are doing the rounds, none of them has thrown their hat in the ring yet. The Department of Economic Affairs, under the aegis of the finance ministry, rolled out the advertisement on June 30. It’s a break from the past precedent of picking candidates after internal discussions.
Business Today touched base with various top economists — in India and across the globe — to gauge their willingness to take up the job. The response was not encouraging. Almost all of them believe that the minimum qualification of a post graduate degree, and not a doctorate, is undesirable. A doctorate degree and research papers are seen as important but not essential for the position. The CEA is expected to dig deep into his subject and give inputs to the political leadership. “You can hire a foreign trained or an Indian economist but seeking just a post graduate is not appropriate,” says a top economist whose name is among those believed to be in the reckoning.
These economists are also evaluating the reputation risk of not being selected after applying. “At this stage of our career, we may want to work for the country but there will be a huge reputation risk of losing out,” an economist told Business Today. This is the last year of the NDA regime and there will be an interim budget — it doesn’t require presentation of the Economic Survey and there is little time to influence policy making in a big way. “This makes the risk, riskier,” the same economist added.
The finance ministry is considering working bureaucrats and technocrats also and may not go for internationally reputed names. In the recent past, India appointed Kaushik Basu, World Bank’s Chief Economist; Raghuram Rajan, former IMF chief economist and the outgoing CEA Arvind Subramanian is another economist from the IMF who worked at Peterson Institute for International Economics at Washington DC. But they were all criticised for their lack of understanding of the ground realities in India. The ideological parent of the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates are dead against bringing on board economists with education and work experience abroad. Still, they say, this doesn’t mean that good names (among Indians) shouldn’t come.
Meanwhile, top officials in the government told Business Today that they are talking to various economists. But will those big names sent in their applications without any commitment of being appointed? Wait and watch. July 20, the deadline for applying, is not far away.