Mishra’s resignation throws the future of the governmental think tank into disarray

- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

May 20, 2019-

Six months ago, in late November, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had blamed lack of proper policy suggestions for the slow pace of his administration’s development activities. Oli was addressing the introductory meeting of the Policy Research Academy (Niti Anusandhan Pratisthan), a think tank established by his administration two months earlier in September.

Chaitanya Mishra, a sociology professor at Tribhuvan University and well-known academic, was appointed to lead the think tank, which would recommend policies on issues ranging from development and construction to security, foreign relations and good governance.

But just as a debate was kindling on the need for a governmental think tank, Mishra quietly resigned last week, throwing the future of the much-touted think tank into doubt. Mishra’s departure has raised questions over whether the think tank will ever take off—and even if it does, will it ever be able to function as an independent institution?

Mishra did not resign publicly, but officials at the academy confirmed to the Post that he had put in his papers over a week ago. Repeated attempts via phone and text messages to reach Mishra went unanswered.

Academy insiders said that the professor could have decided to step down after being faced with the government’s non-committal and non-cooperative attitude, despite Oli’s assertions of full support for the team.

In a Saturday interview with Kantipur daily, the Post’s sister publication, Mishra had listed various bureaucratic and logistical problems he faced at the think tank—in setting up a proper office, creating necessary positions, and hiring researchers. Although Mishra needed at least 15 researchers, he was only able to hire four, he told Kantipur.

Such bureaucratic hurdles were the primary reason behind Mishra’s resignation, a source at the think tank told the Post on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

“Oli had promised to sort those issues out, but it did not happen,” the source said. “So he decided to call it quits.”

While the source said that Mishra was noncommittal about any pressure or interference from the government, two other officials at the think tank said that he had been irked by bureaucratic snags while getting approval for a budget and hiring people. Mishra was uncomfortable visiting Singha Durbar or the Finance Ministry in pursuit of a petty budget, said the officials.

It was humiliating for someone like him to visit junior officials asking for a budget, they told the Post.

Mishra has been a teacher and academic for the last 27 years, founding Tribhuvan University’s Central Department of Sociology and Anthropology. However, he was always uncomfortable with leadership positions, he had said in the Kantipur interview.

His research interests are wide-ranging and cover economic history, policy and programme analysis, political, economic and cultural correlates of development and underdevelopment, human development, decentralisation and local government, labour migration, and bilateral and regional processes in South Asia.

He currently lectures on the sociology of knowledge, sociological theory, Marxist perspectives and the history of sociology. Mishra is also the author of a number of books on Nepali society, and has published in many national and international journals.

In the public sphere, however, many wondered if Oli’s often-stated aversion to intellectuals had anything to do with Mishra’s resignation.

In an interview on Nepal TV in December last year, Oli had made public his disdain for intellectuals, saying they were the ones who were the “mother of all ills” and that he could leave all the “so-called intellectuals ‘bedridden’ and at a loss for words” if he ever decided to retort.

According to leaders from the ruling Nepal Communist Party, even though the think tank was formed in September last year, the government was planning to formally set it up as early as possible—from the beginning of the ongoing fiscal year. Oli had even held discussions with a number of people who were involved in or operating think tanks.

Among them was Sujeev Shakya, who heads the Nepal Economic Forum.

“I had always wondered why he [Mishra] decided to join the think tank,” Shakya told the Post. “His sudden resignation came as a surprise, but he should now tell the public what prompted him to step down—whether or not he received the support he required from the prime minister.”

Government officials had initially claimed that the think tank would operate more as a research institute and advise the government on various policy issues. Though it is under the Prime Minister’s Office, the academy was envisioned as an autonomous body with full authority to take decisions on its own.

But in his interview with Kantipur, Mishra hinted at a lack of autonomy and independence.

Initially, Mishra had appeared optimistic about the government initiative. In an interview with the Post in February, he had defended the institution and expressed happiness over all that the government had offered him.

The academy, which was to have a number of research fellows, had been given a free hand to hire staff, Mishra had said. When asked how the academy’s work would differ from other think tanks, Mishra had said that his team had a larger mandate and did not limit itself to what the National Planning Commission or other groups did.

Nishchal Nath Pandey, director of the Centre for South Asian Studies, a privately run think tank, said that it is unfortunate that officials are resigning from a governmental think tank when it should have been fully functional.

“Governmental think tanks are facing a crisis everywhere because the general perception among the people is that they churn out government propaganda,” Pandey told the Post. “This is why there is a new trend globally where governments support private think tanks. The United States and India are some examples.”

Published: 21-05-2019 07:00

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