Wide talent hunt for new think tank

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By Radhika Ramaseshan
  • Published 2.01.15

New Delhi, Jan. 1: The Narendra Modi government will cast its net far and wide, looking beyond the RSS-BJP ideological fraternity, as it hunts for talent for the Niti Aayog, the successor to the Planning Commission.

A well-regarded Sangh sympathiser, who is in with the Modi dispensation, said: "If the government has to deploy exponential gear for the country to grow from five to nine per cent, then it cannot use the old instrumentalities or approach the new body with an old mindset. There is an ambitious political mandate to be fulfilled but its underpinning is economic growth and not the issues that have side-tracked governance over the past few weeks. The architecture of the state has to be attuned to the 21st century."

Official sources said the "immediate" model for the Aayog will be the reconstituted National Disaster Management Authority. Instead of treating the authority as a "parking space for retired 'babus'", three practising experts were inducted. The new members are Kamal Kishor, a disaster resolution expert at the UN Development Programme, Lt Gen. (retd) N.C. Marwah and D.N. Sharma, director of the health, safety and environment group at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

BJP sources said ever since Modi spoke of an alternative policy mechanism on August 15, associates of think tanks affiliated to the RSS got cracking. "Job applications were tumbling in," a source said.

After the government dived into the Sangh's premier Vivekananda International Foundation and picked Ajit Doval and Nripendra Mishra as national security adviser and Modi's principal secretary, respectively, the pro-RSS "thinkers" took for granted that the Aayog would create space for them, a party source said. The appointment of A. Surya Prakash, a director of another RSS think tank, India Foundation, as head of Prasar Bharati bolstered their hopes.

"The pattern won't repeat because the new body needs an intellectual base that must be created from a range of talent that needs to be ideology-neutral. If you ask, ideology should not be a criterion. The Prime Minister has proved he has an open mind on crucial appointments.

"The fact that Raghuram Rajan has been retained as the RBI governor and the cabinet secretary (Ajit Seth) given two extensions prove he is tolerant of all points of view and persuasions as long as there is no element of malice," a former associate of another RSS-angled advocacy outfit stated.

He added: "Please don't bring in (Nathuram) Godse clones. If you must, have someone who is pro-nationalist with a little rightward tilt."

Rakesh Sinha, an honorary director of the Sangh-inspired India Policy Foundation, who echoed the "no Godse" line, said the government had not sent him feelers. Sinha, who sent a proposal to the Centre on his version of an alternative plan panel, claimed he had suggested the name Niti Aayog (Policy Commission).

Underlying the government's slight unease about packing such bodies with the Sangh faithful is a realisation that their worldview is "limited".

Although Twitter buzzed with speculation that Arvind Panagariya, the Indian-American economist who was among Modi's "cerebral" backers, was tipped to be the Aayog vice-chairman, sources privy to Modi's mind said he would take time to decide.

The government's unease is compounded by an envy of how the Congress, from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, has been a magnet for attracting merit, from legends like P.C. Mahalanobis, Homi Bhabha, and Vikram A. Sarabhai to S. Radhakrishnan and V.K.R.V. Rao, who established the Delhi School of Economics. Rajiv Gandhi chose Sam Pitroda to build the information industry while Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi picked Nandan Nilekani.

The Modi government, on the other hand, is having to defend the appointment of the Sangh-backed Dinanath Batra and Sudarshan Rao whose purported contribution to history is contested by experts