The NITI Aayog vice chairman’s retirement comes after unrelenting attacks
Arvind Panagariya’s sudden exit from Niti Aayog on Tuesday comes after unrelenting attacks on the planning body and its leadership by a prominent affiliate of the RSS, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, for several months now.
Panagariya, an Indian-American economist, said that he had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to relieve him of his duties as vice chairman of Niti Aayog as he was not getting an extension of leave from Columbia University. Panagariya was appointed to the post in January 2015.
Sources in the Niti Aayog told ThePrint that news of Panagariya’s exit had come as a big surprise to the organisation.
Panagariya, a professor of Indian Political Economy, has been in the firing line of the economic wing of the RSS. The Swadeshi Jagran Manch openly challenged the Niti Aayog’s position on a range of issues and often accused it of being antithetical to the ruling regime’s ideology and principles.
In January, it even hosted a seminar to assess the planning body’s performance over the past two years it has been in existence. Predictably, the seminar tore into Niti Aayog over the policies and positions it espoused. While the Niti Aayog’s top brass was invited to the seminar, only Bibek Debroy made it to the event at which the discussions were hardly in favour to the government think-tank.
The seminar, aimed ostensibly at guiding the Panagariya-Amitabh Kant-led Aayog towards a “course correction”, came soon after the think-tank began to take a position in support of genetically modified crops, an issue that is high priority for the SJM.
The SJM has consistently and vehemently opposed GM crops regardless of which government was in power. The Niti Aayog on the other hand has lent its support to GM technology, especially for domestic varieties such as GM mustard, that are awaiting final approval for commercial launch.
An unfazed Niti Aayog, however, came out supporting GM in its appraisal document of the 12th Five Year Plan.
The January seminar also made it very clear that the right-wing organisation and the new avatar of the Planning Commission were at odds and GM technology was not the only outstanding concern.
Later in May, the SJM fired a fresh salvo over the pricing of essential medicines and the formation of the ‘Committee for Ensuring Enhanced Accessibility of Drugs to the Poor’. The SJM’s National Co-Convenor Ashwani Mahajan wrote to the PM alleging that the Ministry of Health, Department of Pharmaceuticals, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion were working in collusion with Niti Aayog on the issue of drug price control.
Mahajan had said that while the Prime Minister’s vision was to bring down price of essential medicines and medical devices like stents, various government arms, including the Aayog, were working only to protect the interests of pharmaceutical companies. The SJM has gone on record to call Niti Aayog and its leadership anti-poor and working to favour global powers, especially in the sectors of health and agriculture.
In June, Mahajan tagged the PM in a tweet saying that a report proved the SJM’s contention that NITI Aayog “is not working in sync with your policies” and was “obsessed by living monuments of UPA”.
When contacted by ThePrint, Mahajan declined to comment on Panagariya’s exit.