Raghuram Rajan, governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), recently commanded attention when he communicated his decision not to return for a second term after his current three-year-tenure ends on September 4, 2016, as reported by “Business Standard.” In addition, he also openly expressed his intention to return to academics. Before stepping into the role he would be soon exiting, Rajan was employed as a Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, according to his biography on the university’s website. He took charge of the new office on September 4, 2013, and since then, has been on leave from the prestigious American University. His outright refusal to continue holding the coveted office signifies his never-ending love for academia, and tells his critics that he is a true academician by heart and will always remain one.
Rajan is a man with an impressive list of intellectual and global credentials. This resumé was the reason he was recruited by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to head the affairs of India’s top Central Bank as its 23rd governor.
The 53-year-old Indian is an alumnus of some of the best engineering and management institutions; both in his home country and abroad, according to his biography. He has also served the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a chief economist and director of research. Besides this, he is also known for having a demonstrated clairvoyance, as when he foresaw the 2008-09 global economic slowdown, “Black Swan.” He issued warnings about it in his book entitled “Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy,” which was published in the year 2010, according to the Booth School.
However, despite having such an outstanding resumé, he was not really cut out for the job. His straightforward personality makes him express everything and anything, whether right or wrong, and gives him a tendency to call “a spade a spade.” Added to that is an intrinsic desire to be known for his work instead of citizenship or loyalty toward any lobby or political affiliation. The outcome was a constant reminder that the world is interacting with someone who is a true academician by heart and will always remain one. This, unfortunately, seems to have cost him the coveted role.
Otherwise, why would a talented professional like him, who has a long list of accomplishments to flaunt in his first tenure, be allowed to abandon his office so easily? Soon after his appointment, Rajan skillfully handled “India’s high inflation and debt-related problems” by immediately forming an expert committee for analyzing, reviewing, and rejuvenating the country’s monetary policy, according to the NDTV website. This was not a small deliverable to be bypassed in contemplating his comeback for a second term. Still, it appears to have been actively discounted in the making of this crucial decision.
If sources are to be believed, the very tag of “academician,” which got him hand-picked for the role, paved the way for his exodus. According to Mudra Institute of Communications Ahmedabad (MICA) and Daily O websites, the central banker appears to have suffered from a “celebrity economist” syndrome arising from his impeccable academic and professional track record in banking and corporate finance.
He was embued with a sense of entitlement and authority due to his intellectual supremacy, thereby making him oblivious to the difference between delivering a classroom lecture on economics and finance and running the country’s largest central bank. This occurred in tandem with a recently elected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government that had independently come to power in 2014 with a thumping majority. Instead of lecturing the new government on India’s existing economic conditions, he should have guided and suggested suitable changes in the policies formulated by it to make them more country-friendly. However, he chose to do the former.
Although Rajan’s intentions were right, his approach was wrong. Experts suggest the central banker’s biggest mistake was to treat the RBI as a university and the newly appointed BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government as his students, who could be made to elicit unquestioning obedience to any financial reforms brought forth by him, according to the First Post website.
The economics wizard went wrong in being obsessed with fixing the Indian economy while ignoring the existence of the political reality that went into it. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, Rajan failed miserably in understanding the country’s new governance. He disappointed those convinced of his intellectual caliber by harboring an incorrect and somewhat complacent thinking that he could get away unscathed after mouthing uninvited criticism over the policies made by a political regime that, in the last two years, has garnered enough popularity in spite of being both highly anti-intellectual and intolerant to any dissent.
Besides, he was also at fault for assuming continuous recognition of his relentless efforts to save the Indian economy from collapsing. All of this occurred in the wake of his fearless jabs at the functioning of a government that from day one of its coming to power favored sycophancy over meritocracy. This is clear from the key appointments of “yes men” it has made to head some of the prestigious academic institutions and statutory watchdog and censorship bodies in the country, such as the Films and Television Institute of India in Pune (FTII- Pune) and the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), as stated by the Daily O website.
This was not the first time that an academic expert was appointed to oversee and manage one critical aspect of the country’s functioning alongside an existing governance regime. The case in point is that of late Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who, despite his academic stature as a scientist lacking any prior mainstream politics exposure, was appointed as the 11th president of India from 2002 to 2007, as confirmed from his official website. Fondly remembered as India’s “Missile Man,” Kalam, too, had his share of political controversies in which he got entangled during his presidency. However, what set him apart from Rajan, despite sharing the same label of “academician,” was the deftness and panache with which he fielded them and emerged successful, as reported by the Quint website.
Rajan does appear to have acted with less grace and maturity than expected in balancing out the handling of his tenure and interaction with the central government. Still, it would not be completely justified to put the onus of everything that took place on his shoulders. After all, academicians uphold their self-esteem over everything else, including position and power, as stated by the MICA website. They often give preference to being infamous and unpopular in a safe and open-minded society that promotes freedom of speech and expression over fame and popularity in a closed environment that is insecure, restricts movement, and curbs freedom of speech and expression. Rajan is no different.
During his three-year-stint as the RBI governor, Rajan’s biggest achievement seems to have been his ability to speak his mind against all odds by clearly communicating that both academics and politics cannot co-exist – something which only an academician can do. Regardless of the trials and tribulations he went through, including his share of wins and losses, one thing for which he does deserve accolades is his continued faithfulness and loyalty toward the academia, thus proving time and again that he is a true academician by heart and will always remain one.
Opinion by Bashar Saajid
Chicago Booth: Faculty and Research – Raghuram Rajan
Business Standard: BJP doesn’t agree with Swamy’s remarks against Raghuram Rajan: Arun Jaitley
NDTV: Chicago University Welcomes RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan Back to Academics
MICA: I am Raghuram Rajan and I do things My own way
Daily O: Raghuram Rajan has only himself to blame for working with Modi
First Post: The numbers RBI governor Raghuram Rajan did not get: 2014 and 282
AbdulKalam.com: Profile of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
The Quint: Gone Viral: As President, Kalam Fielded Controversies with Panache
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