Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Arvind Panagariya's sudden resignation from Niti Aayog comes as a surprise to many

Even as the 64-year-old said he has resigned from the government think-tank to pursue teaching in the US, many say it isn't clear what really caused Panagariya's rather abrupt exit

Paramita Chatterjee
Published: Aug 1, 2017 02:37:38 AM IST
Updated: Aug 1, 2017 10:48:36 PM IST

Image by: Adnan Abidi / Reuters
Arvind Panagariya, Niti Aayog, Indian-American economist

When Indian-American economist Arvind Panagariya put in his papers as Niti Aayog Vice Chairman on Tuesday, it took government officials by surprise. After all, the Padma Bhushan awardee was handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself for the coveted post in January 2015.

Even as the 64-year-old said he has resigned from the government think-tank to pursue teaching in the US, many say it isn't clear what really caused Panagariya’s rather abrupt exit. He will be in office till the end of this month (August 31), following which he will return to teach Indian Political Economy at Columbia University (New York).

Panagariya said the university did not grant him further extension, stating that as the reason behind his resignation. “If I were at 40, then I would have got [a] job anywhere... the kind of job I have at Columbia is almost impossible to get at this age,” he said while addressing reporters in New Delhi. Panagariya said he had expressed his desire to the Prime Minister about two months ago to step down from the government’s policymaking machinery.

However, what caused surprise in the government circuit was that the Indian-American professor knew what he was getting into when he accepted the offer in 2015. Niti Aayog was formed the same year --  after the erstwhile Planning Commission was dismantled -- with the idea of fostering development by providing both, directional and policy inputs.

Panagariya, a PhD from the Princeton University, is the second academic-economist to quit office to return to teaching in the US. RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan tendered his resignation last year after a three-year term to move back to the world of academics at Chicago University.

Panagariya is one of the renowned economists in the world. In the past, he has worked with the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, IMF and UNCTAD. He has also authored a plethora of books including India’s Tryst with Destiny: Debunking Myths that Undermine Progress and Addressing New Challenges that he co-authored by noted economist Jagdish Bhagwati.

Some of the significant achievements of Niti Aayog during Panagariya’s tenure has been its attempt to push privatisation, pave the way for reforms and facilitate the sale of sick units and Air India. During a recent interview to Forbes India, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant had said: We have been asked by the government to advise on strategic disinvestment and we at Niti Aayog have given four reports. We have looked at almost 50-odd units and in our fourth report, we have considered the strategic disinvestment of Air India. On job creation, Kant had said a committee headed by Vice Chairman Arvind Panagariya was looking to capture employment statistics on an annual basis.