Arvind Subramanian quit his position as chief economic advisor to the finance ministry and decided to return to his career in academic research in the United States of Americas. He cited personal reasons behind his decision. The Union finance minister paid the usual tributes to Mr Subramanian and acknowledged his contributions as a policy advisor. His resignation comes at a time when the Indian economy is not doing too well and has to show strong signs of recovery, especially with parliamentary elections not too far away. A few months ago, Arvind Panagariya of Columbia University had quit his post in the Niti Aayog, once again going back to his university position. Raghuram Rajan also went back to the US in 2016 after his three-year term as governor of the Reserve Bank of India had come to an end. In his case, it was evident from his letter that the decision to quit was not his. There had been a strident campaign against him led by Subramanian Swamy of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Hence, in the past two years, three distinguished advisors who came to serve the Government of India have left rather unexpectedly. Two plausible reasons could be thought of. The first is that these personalities may have had issues with other senior civil servants in government. In such cases, the ‘outsider’ normally has to give way to the power of the set of ‘Yes Ministers’. The second plausible reason is that at a time when open criticism of the government is frowned upon as never before, could it be that criticism inside the corridors of power is no longer tolerated as well?
If the first reason holds true, then the Centre’s recent announcement to take as lateral entrants some senior executives from the private sector is not going to work well. If the ambience in government is such that expertise from outside is frowned at or looked down upon, then it will be very difficult for private sector executives to survive. It makes no sense to announce this form of entry as a policy for augmenting the experiential knowledge of the bureaucracy. If, on the other hand, the second reason is the dominant factor, then it is indeed cause for serious worry. Policy ambience is enriched when there is a diversity of opinion. Strong leadership is that which can extract the best out of such situations and formulate coherent, feasible policies out of this diversity in ideas. Any leadership that desires only homogeneity and conformity will find it difficult to frame policies that are acceptable to most, and are feasible at the same time.