Amitabh Kant exits floundering NITI Aayog


Photo Credit Twitter NITI Aayog

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By Manish Anand

New Delhi, June 24: In a bid to attempt a makeover of the NITI Aayog, the government on Friday replaced Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Amitabh Kant with Parmeswaran Iyer.

Kant’s term was ending on June 30 this year. He would complete his third consecutive terms at the NITI Aayog as the CEO on June 30.

Iyer has spearheaded Modi’s flagship Swachch Bharat Mission, and is credited to have made impactful changes in the approach of the state governments towards sanitation, including the campaign for the open defecation free (ODF) villages, besides the Swachchata ranking of the cities, which again oriented the municipal bodies in the country to compete with improved cleanliness.

Kant, with his well-known skills for branding and marketing as seen in his campaigns for ‘God’s own country’ for Kerala and Madhya Pradesh tourism previously, emerged as the face of the NITI Aayog, since its constitution in 2016, replacing the Planning Commission.

Modi constituted the NITI Aayog to work as India’s premier policy think-tank, and mandated it to work on short-term, medium-term and long-term action plans.

Arvind Panagariya, the only economist of international acclaim to work with the Modi government, was the first vice-chairman of the NITI Aayog.

But Panagariya had to leave his office mid-way in his term, with the media widely attributing his exit to the constant rift between him and Kant.

Insiders in the NITI Aayog would state even that Panagariya and Kant weren’t on taking terms, and the full members meeting rarely took place.

While Modi had tasked Panagariya and Kant to establish NITI Aayog as the government’s policy think-tank, the mandate was lost mid-way due to the emergence of the two power centres, while the CEO office made the vice-chairman lame duck, Members in the NITI Aayog would often say, reflecting on the poor record of the fledgling entity.

Kant’s contributions to the NITI Aayog are seen in the swanky fifth floor, modelled after best of the corporate houses, with corridors decorated with ornamental plants, and the space buzzed with the young professionals, hired on contracts, lounging with their laptops.

The NITI Aayog’s two documents – Three-year action plan and Seven-year action plan – had no takers among the states.

Panagariya’s personal equation with the former Finance Minister Arun Jaitely had given the solace to the think tank with the formal unveiling of the ‘Three-year action plan’, after the states showed no interest during one of the Governing Council meetings in the national capital.

Kant, sources said, got the full strength of the young professionals to work with him, and they in turn produced papers which were already known in the public domain, with scribes in one of the pressers pointing that one of the policy documents brought out by the NITI Aayog had the bearing of the ‘Google copy-paste’.

Some of the slogans of the Modi government indeed had their origins in the NITI Aayog, including ‘Doubling farmers’ income by 2022’, ‘USD 5 trillion economy by 2025’.

The insiders in the NITI Aayog attributed such slogans to the authorship of Kant. But they lacked action plans, as had been evident in the case of the slogan of ‘Doubling farmers’ income by 2022’, which conveniently has dropped from the lexicon of the ministers after it saw no signs of seeing light of the day.

Ramesh Chand, the Member (Agriculture) in NITI Aayog, afterwards counted conditions for realizing the ambition of the ‘Doubling of farmers’ income’ beyond 2022, which was incumbent upon the implementation of the four contentious farm laws, which the government had to take back after caused wide-spread in the country.

PK Mishra, principal secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), is known within the power corridor to have, shielded Kant despite the NITI Aayog not finding its identity in the last six years.

While NITI Aayog during the stint of Kant failed to produce policy papers worth adoption by the Centre or the state, he established himself as a regular columnist in newspapers, opining on different subjects.

Iyer, however, is known to be a team-man, and the government would hope that he would team up with the newly-appointed vice chairman Suman Bery, who’s, however, not an economist of international fame as had been the case with Panagariya, to bring a sense of purpose in NITI Aayog.

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