Sunday, May 18, 2014

Who are the Sam Pitrodas of the BJP?

New Delhi: Narendra Modi, it is clear, is not content to be a prime minister at the head of a BJP-led NDA government. He is driven both by ambition and ideas, and he will be reaching out to people with ideas who will make the difference that he thinks he can make to the country’s development.

Many of the middle class, well-employed, high net worth individuals in the United States are friends of the BJP, right-wing in their political leanings and fiercely conservative nationalists to boot. But there may not be enough innovative and imaginative experts in their ranks as most of them are in businesses connected with information technology. Very few of them occupy senior positions in the universities or in institutions of research in the US.

There will be three areas where Modi would want to have intellectual inputs that would make his agenda innovative and effective: security, finance and foreign policy.

Ajai Sahni, director of Institute for Conflict Management, told dna that most think-tanks, the usual source for expertise, are manned by retired officials. There is no tradition of rigorous, academic research in the country. The BJP and the Modi government will have to seek advice and opinion from these established sources.

The man who is in reckoning for the key post of national security advisor is Ajit Doval, who is close to the BJP and many of its leaders. Sahni thinks that this time round, unlike in the past, it will be a Modi, and not a BJP, government. He thinks Modi is open-minded and he will reach out to experts outside the predictable think tanks of retired officials. He said that there is a distinct possibility that Modi could tap Indian-origin university dons from the United States who are authorities on security issues, for the expert input.

M.Bhadrakumar, former diplomat, said that the new government of Modi will face more problems on the Pakistan front, which will have an impact even on the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. He said that relations with China and the United States will be less problematic, and they will even be better under Modi. “Ideal foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy,” he said. He thinks that Modi’s approach to foreign policy would be more of a “hardcore realist” and that he has the youth and the needs of the economy uppermost on his mind. “If you read his (Modi’s) speeches, there is no touch of triumphalism,” he observed. “Modi could bring a rank outsider to advise on strategy issues,” he said. He thought that former foreign secretaries lieke Shyam Saran, Kanwal Sibal, and former high commissioner to Pakistan G.Parthasarathy were hardliners with regard to Pakistan, climate change and China. Modi will play the pragmatist card and he will have to look for someone outside. He thinks that Hardeep Puri, former Permanent Representative to the UN, who has now joined the BJP, is likely to play a key role.

With regard to economic policy, noted economist Bibek Debroy felt that that it much too premature to think of the intellectual inputs for policy at this moment. He said that it will be difficult to hazard a guess as to who will be the main economic advisor. The only two names that are being bandied about are those of Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya.

Arvind Virmani, who served as chief economic advisor to the finance minister, said in response to the question whether as a right-wing party, the BJP would seek out right-wing economists, he said: “To me "right wing" economics is not the same as what is called "right wing" in India based on religious issues. I don't think economic advisors will be chosen on the basis of their religious orientation/views.”

He also said that it is possible that “Given that 12 months ago few Indian economists were neutral or favorably inclined towards Shri Modi as PM, it is quite possible that he would increase the catchment area to NRI economists. Don't forget that this also happened in late 1980s -early 1990s & recently with my two successors (Kaushik Basu and Raghuram Rajan) as chief economic advisor (CEA).”

Two of BJP’s office-bearers felt that it is not the time to even think of BJP’s efforts to build intellectual capital for running its government. At the moment, there are no enterprising Sam Pitrodas on the horizon for the BJP. Debroy observed that there might be no parallel to the national advisory council (NAC) in the BJP, but there will be thinks like national commission of knowledge and experts will be appointed for the job.

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