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We were told that this government was going to be different—one characterized by steadfastness of purpose, and, pointedly, without the ongoing spectacle of sensitive documents leaked to the press and a parade of senior government ministers and officials speaking out of turn on matters not necessarily within their remit. These were, indeed, among the pathologies that disfigured the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, and they helped foster the impression of a government which didn’t know its own mind, and, once it had figured out what it wanted to do, couldn’t act upon it.

Alas, it now appears that the current Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government has succumbed to the same disease. In a column devoted principally to missteps of the finance ministry on matters such as the Minimum Alternate Tax, I noted in passing the appearance of leaks from within North Block that threatened to undermine the credibility of finance minister Arun Jaitley.

The finance ministry is once again the locus, if not necessarily the source, of another, potentially seriously embarrassing, leak: a private memorandum from chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Jaitley arguing the case for a major overhaul in India’s negotiating position in the lead-up to the global climate policy summit set for Paris later this year. A copy of the memorandum was seen by Business Standard—we do not, of course, know the source of the leak—and snippets from it were shared by the journalist who broke the story. I have not myself seen the document in question, so my comments on it will necessarily reflect those portions of it that the journalist and his editor chose to share with their readers.

Quite apart from the substance of Subramanian’s recommendations, to which I shall return, the potentially most damaging aspect of the leaked note is that, if it forms the basis of the government’s negotiating strategy in the lead-up to, and in, Paris—that remains a big if—India will already have tipped its hand to our negotiating partners on what is, and is not, deemed negotiable, and what are the “red lines" that will not be crossed. In a game of poker, players hold their cards facing in, and not out, for a good reason.

To take an example, Subramanian argues—taking at face value the redacted version of his note that was published in Business Standard—that issues such as climate finance by advanced economies to support developing economies, the differential obligations of advanced and developing economies, and the emphasis on adaptation to climate change in lieu of mitigation efforts are all “less vital interests" for India than they might presumably be for poorer developing and frontier economies. He adds: “These issues can be used as bargaining chips in the final negotiations."

As it happens, such views are congruent with ideas that Subramanian has put forward in previous academic, policy and public writings, and hinted at in the chapter on climate change in the Economic Survey—although the inset box 8.2 dutifully pays homage to the government’s official stance—and, therefore, at some level, should not be particularly surprising.

For the record, I agree with Subramanian that it is high time we ditch the rhetoric of asking advanced economies to pay for our climate change efforts, as it largely plays to the gallery back home and leads to little, if any, substantive gain. I also agree with him that India ought to be wary of putting itself into the same boat as China, in particular, a point that I had argued earlier.

I disagree with Subramanian, however, on the need to shift from piecemeal adaptation to more concerted mitigation efforts, and believe this is unwise for an economy which needs to grow rapidly— a process which, whether anyone likes it or not, is going to be carbon-intensive. Tying our hands prematurely to excessively stringent greenhouse gas mitigation goals will make our friends in the non-governmental organization community happy, but would be disastrous for our development prospects.

Such debates are all legitimate fodder equally for academic seminars as well as for the Delhi and Mumbai cocktail circuits. But there is a world of difference between putting forward such proposals in the context of an academic or public debate on climate change policy or in a newspaper op-ed, on the one hand, versus these ideas—already leaked publicly —being adopted as government policy— if, indeed, that happens (which will need the approval of a revised Cabinet note).

It will be akin to a poker player sharing his or her betting strategy with the other players, before the game begins. The only winners are our negotiating partners in Paris, who will have a window into our putative negotiating strategy, at least as conceived by the chief economic adviser.

Of course, implausible as it sounds, you might think that the leak itself was deliberate, and represents a clever move intended to obfuscate and befuddle our negotiating partners. You might very well think that. I could not possibly comment.

Every fortnight, In the Margins explores the intersection of economics, politics and public policy to help cast light on current affairs.

Comments are welcome at views@livemint.com. To read Vivek Dehejia’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/vivekdehejia

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