Advisors have a significant role to play in politics, be they media advisors or economic advisors. These advisors have an important role to play in shaping the political-economic trajectory of the nation. This warrants a look at the Economic Advisor of the just-retired Finance Minister and the role she played.
Pranab Mukherjee is going to contest in the Presidential election and a review of his four-decade long political career is in the order of things. All and sundry are perusing his role in the downslide of the Indian economy. But amidst all this a crucial aspect is missing from the public gaze – a review of the tenure of the Economic Advisor to the Finance Minister. If Pranab is to blame for the economic turmoil that has gripped the country, why should his advisor be spared? What is baffling is the fact that the Economic Advisor of Pranab has no expertise whatsoever of economic issues. Well, this can be possible only in India!
Pranab had been determining the trajectory of Indian economy on the active advice of an ex-officer of the Indian Information Services. The results have been obvious: in the past couple of years Indian economy has been paralysed twice, growth rate has fallen below 7 per cent and is still plummeting, inflation has run riot in double digits, the rupee has fallen to a historical low against the dollar and the current account deficit is increasing by the year.
Should Pranab be held responsible for all this mess? If yes, then should not his advisor be held responsible too? Omita Paul, an officer of the 1973 batch of Indian Information Services, has been the Economic Advisor of Pranab Mukherjee. She had worked with Pranab Mukherjee in many other ministries as his Officer on Special Duty (OSD) and advisor. If the academic background of Omita Paul is perused, she turns out to be a novice in the field of economics and finance. She gained a master’s degree in Chemistry in 1969; then she moved on to study journalism and in 1985 she was awarded an M.Phil in Social Sciences. She got through the Civil Services in 1973. She has worked in many departments as Press Officer, Assistant Information Officer and Director Public Relations. In 1979, she became the Under Secretary in the Commerce Department. Now the question is, against this academic and professional training, what was Omita Paul equipped with that she was made Advisor to the Finance Minister?
Though no one would come out with a candid answer to these questions, the questions that Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has raised are not baffling but the silence that followed has further raised more serious queries in the matter. Chauthi Duniya is in possession of a letter written to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) by a member of SEBI, Dr. A.K. Abraham, which directly questions the role of Omita Paul in the Finance Ministry. In this letter, dated 1 June 2011, Abraham wrote to the Prime Minister that he was saddened to report the way things were going in the Finance Ministry but that being a member of SEBI it was his duty to report. He wrote that he had served as the Head of Investigation and Surveillance Department and noted that the fair working of SEBI was hampered by powerful and extraneous factors trying to influence the market regulator in the interest of corporate houses. The Finance Ministry was a very frequent disturbance in the working of the regulator.
Abraham revealed in his letter that the Finance Ministry, especially an important official in the ministry (allusion to Omita Paul), regularly tried to influence the Board whenever it tried to take action against big corporate houses. He made specific mention of the fact that the Chairman of SEBI was under immense pressure from the Finance Ministry. This letter was written in 2011 and no one knows what action was taken in this regard by the PMO.
Now that it is almost certain that Pranab will move to the President’s office, it is expected that Omita Paul too will accompany him there. While the appointment of officials can be the prerogative of Ministers or the Prime Minister, is it not in the order of things that the utility of these officials in the specific capacities that they are employed be made public knowledge? After all they are paid from the tax-payers money. Hasn’t the public of this country the right to know the rationale of why somebody is appointed where he/she is appointed? This becomes more of a right to be underscored when people can see that the economy is going down the drain, yet not a specialist but a novice is steering to save a foundering ship.