Since the time Chanakya worked as the advisor of emperor Chandragupta Maurya and his son Bindusar, the importance of advisors has been recognised by all rulers, both in monarchy and democracy. Recently, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin hit the headlines by appointing a team of economic advisors consisting of Nobel laureate Esther Duflo, development economist John Dreze, former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, former chief advisor of economic affairs of the Centre Arvind Subramaniam and former Union Finance Secretary S Narayan.
Indian governments, both at the Centre and states, must hire expert advice. The country needs a wide and divergent pool of talent to address its vexed socio- economic challenges. It is also time to expand the catchment area beyond known experts who have a long innings of service behind them. Experts should be selected with focus on outcomes and not headline management. It is easy for governments to go for advisors who help them in the perception game.
In 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic, the West Bengal government appointed a team of experts to guide it during the challenging period. It had names such as Nobel laureate economist Abhijit Banerjee (who, by the way, is Dufflo’s husband), Swarup Sarkar former director of communicable diseases at WHO, prominent doctors Sukumar Mukherjee and Abhijit Chowdhury. However, the government did not convey to the people the contribution of Banerjee or Sarkar.
Since public funds are spent on them, governments should periodically inform the people the contribution advisors make. If this practice is adopted, it will also pre-empt any tendency of zeroing in on prominent names who might not always be fit for a role or might even be resting on their laurels.
This is not to belittle the capabilities of the advisors Tamil Nadu has appointed. However, all governments should keep the pitfalls in mind, select with outcome in focus and be accountable.
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