Book Title: We Also Make Policy: An Insider’s Account of How the Finance Ministry Functions
Author: Subhash Chandra Garg
Considering the tight ship that the Modi government runs, with a premium on secrecy in policy-making, we shall never get to know if this exercise in other wings of the government is as chaotic and prone to misadventures, as have been outlined by former Finance Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg.
The surprisingly frank book by a former bureaucrat, narrated in a matter-of-fact tone with no ill-will and still holding Prime Minister Modi in high esteem, would rank as among the closest that opens the window into its economic policy-making.
PM Modi calling then RBI Governor Urjit Patel a “coiled snake” was the highlight of the book’s sneak preview. But there is a much more detailed account of his run-in with Nirmala Sitharaman that led to his departure from the Finance Ministry, differences with Power Minister RK Singh and a troubled relationship with stand-in FM Piyush Goyal.
Sitharaman, he says, came to the Finance Ministry with a bias against him. In their last confrontation, she claimed that Garg had been calling her names. What follows is a gut-wrenching account of a senior officer made to feel unwanted and small. Garg though takes it on his chin. He also takes in his stride the warnings that the PM had turned cold towards him and that Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal were bitterly complaining about him to the PM.
With this book, Garg’s circle of friends in the bureaucracy is certain to shrink; beginning with senior Punjab IAS officer Anurag Agarwal and including then Principal Secretary to the PM Nripendra Mishra, who he burdens with the responsibility of pushing through the PM Kisan scheme in an interim budget, a morally dubious move, and without firm numbers of farmers in the country because general elections were round the corner. Garg also mentions several who in his view deserved credit and none more than Arun Jaitley.
Garg also punctures the Central government’s myth that it increased the MSP by 150 per cent for all crops. Or that foreign direct investment and e-commerce have been runaway successes. What if the policies, at least the economic ones highlighted by Garg, were not sudden directives from the top and an attempt to fit round pegs in square holes?
The Bill to regulate cryptocurrencies, privatisation, the IL&FS resolution or the much talked about confrontational years with the RBI — much of it is in the public domain. What spices up the incidents this time is that Garg takes the reader into the hallowed rooms on Raisina Hill with a meeting-by-meeting and a note-by-counter-note account of each of the policies framed in his tenure. If sometimes the build-up, as in the chapter on SEBI or monetisation, appears technical and tedious, perseverance opens a delightful window into the years of the Modi government straddling the 2019 general elections for the reader as well as for RTI enthusiasts.