Modi’s all-star Economy XI is finally ready for a long innings, on a tricky wicket

Team Modi.
Team Modi.
Image: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki
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At long last, prime minister Narendra Modi’s crack team to steady and restore India’s faltering economy is complete.

The latest additions came on Monday, with three key appointments to the NITI Aayog, the policy think-tank that’ll replace the 64-year-old Planning Commission.

Packed full with a handful of world-class economists, a clutch of experienced mandarins, a couple of politicians, a former missile scientist and only one woman, Modi’s Economy XI is certainly not lacking in intellectual firepower, economic talent or bureaucratic wisdom.

Nonetheless, it takes to the field for a long innings and on a tricky wicket, although collapsing oil prices and a ceaselessly upbeat stock market will certainly help. The opposition, no matter how fragmented, will be carefully tracking every move, ready to capitalize on any shortcomings.

Here’s a quick introduction to India’s new economic lineup.

Arvind Panagariya

Vice chairman, NITI Aayog

The man behind the recent labour reforms in Rajasthan, Panagariya is Jagdish N. Bhagwati Professor of Indian Political Economy at Columbia University—where he works alongside his mentor, economist Jagdish Bhagwati. A fierce supporter of Gujarat’s development model, many believe him to be influential in shaping Modi’s global outlook. He usually bats for market reforms and has been reportedly writing advisories for BJP for the past two years. He has worked as the chief economist at Asian Development Bank and held appointments at World Bank, International Trade Organisation and International Monetary Fund.

Bibek Debroy

Member, NITI Aayog

Educated at Trinity College Cambridge and Dehi School of Economics, Debroy is an economist and currently a professor at Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research. Last year, he was appointed to head a panel to restructure the Indian railway board after the Modi government assumed power. Debroy is among those in the new government who have been members of the conservative think-tank, Vivekandanda International Foundation.

VK Saraswat

Member, NITI Aayog

A missile scientist with a penchant for kicking up controversy by frequently commenting on anti-ballistic missiles in South Asia, VK Saraswat is thought to be among the most successful chiefs of the Defence Research and Development Organisation. Also a member of the Vivekananda International Foundation, he is the dean at the think tank’s Centre for Technological and Scientific studies. Reputedly a hard task master, he was awarded India’s third highest civilian award, Padma Bhushan, in 2013 for his achievements in the field of science and technology.

Arun Jaitley

Finance minister

A former student leader and one of the top lawyers in the country, Arun Jaitley was appointed finance minister as soon as the new government came to power. Seen as close confidante of Modi, the Supreme Court senior advocate is the man responsible for overseeing the hard task of getting the economy back on track. With several estimates predicting that the growth can return to 7% in a year or two, Jaitley’s challenge will be to manage corporate India’s expectations and the government’s socio-economic obligations. He’ll also have to ensure he remains fighting fit.

Jayant Sinha

Minister of state for finance

The son of a former foreign (and finance) minister, Jayant Sinha, is among the better educated young politicians in the Indian government today. With degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology and Harvard University, Sinha previously worked as a partner at management consulting firm McKinsey and headed the social impact fund, Omidyar Networks. Despite being a political greenhorn, Sinha, a first time member of parliament from Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh was made a junior minister in the finance ministry when Modi expanded his ministry in November.

Suresh Prabhu

Railway minister

A qualified chartered accountant and a full-blooded politician, Suresh Prabhu was once the blue eyed boy of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Instrumental in introducing power sector reforms in the country during his term as power minister between 2000 and 2002, Modi roped in Prabhu to help transform the Indian Railways. A low profile man, he swiftly shifted loyalties from the Shiv Sena to BJP after years of being sidelined by his former party’s brass.

Arvind Subramanian

Chief economic advisor

A friend of the Reserve Bank of India governor, Raghuram Rajan, Subramanian was listed as one of the top 100 thinkers of 2011 by Foreign Policy Magazine. Before his appointment last year, the St. Stephen’s College, IIM-Ahmedabad and Oxford University alumi was a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and the Center for Global Development.

Critical of his government’s first budget (tabled before he joined), Subramanian has been fighting for quicker subsidy reforms, faster introduction of the goods and services tax, raising public spending and reigning in the fiscal deficit.

Rajiv Mehrishi

Finance secretary

The former chief secretary of Rajasthan, Rajiv Mehrishi powered rapid free market reforms in the state and is widely credited for bringing in regulatory improvements in land and labour. Handpicked by India’s finance minister, Jaitley, to drive India’s economic growth, the two had worked together almost 10 years ago in Vajypayee’s goverment. A graduate of St. Stephen’s College, where he read history, geology and English, Mehrishi also holds a master’s degree in history.

Shaktikanta Das

Revenue secretary

A finance ministry veteran, Das had worked in the finance ministry for five years with the previous government before taking charge as secretary of fertilisers. Known to have vast experience in budget making, he was also the man behind Tamil Nadu government’s successful implementation of its Special Economic Zone policy. As revenue secretary, Das is expected to play a crucial role in helping the current government bring tax reforms and push the goods and services tax through.

Hasmukh Adhia

Financial services secretary

A gold medalist in public policy management from Indian Institute of Management and a Ph.D. in Yoga, Hasmukh Adhia’s spent most of his civil service career in Gujarat except for a five year stint in New Delhi at the ministry of commerce and industry.

Most recently, he was the additional chief secretary in the Gujarat government and has over the years held various portfolios including principal secretary to Modi, when he was chief minister. So after Modi moved to Delhi, Adhia also found a spot in the North Block.

Aradhana Johri

Disinvestment secretary

An Uttar Pradesh-cadre Indian Administrative Service officer, Aradhana Johri was appointed as disinvestent secretary, after the Modi government came to power and made in-charge of the government’s massive disinvestment program. With the government slated to dilute its stake in large public sector undertaking such as Coal India and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, the Harvard-trained Johri has her task cut out.