Off with the head

June 22, 2016

India's central bank - Reserve Bank of India (RBI) - governor Raghuram Rajan during a press conference following a monetary policy review meeting in Mumbai on June 7 (AFP)

After being the target of uncontrolled personal attacks, central bank governor Rajan has chosen to return to academics.

The government was quick to accept his resignation. This on the very same day when the government appointed a cricketer to head the institute of fashion technology. Clearly, there is no space for the argumentative Indian.

Normally, an employer hires the best talent for the betterment of his company or, as the case may be, to head important institutions. What it simply means is that if these talented individuals do their job well, the benefits would accrue to the shareholders and, thereby, the person who appointed them.

This is how good, talented individuals are sought-after and appointed to government bodies, particularly regulatory institutions. Such appointments, generally, explain the importance attached to such seats and the true intent of the government of the day.

During the last two years of the Bharatiya Janata Partyled government, there appears to be one appointment after another to a myriad of institutions which have created disquiet among different sections of society.

One of the first such that led to a long drawn agitation was the appointment of a small-time television actor as head of the country’s premier Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). It was soon followed by the appointment of a relatively unknown historian to head the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR).

Then came the appointment of a certain filmmaker to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) which recently had to be told by a high court what its duties were. The latest one to join this list is the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT).

The charge has been given to former cricketer Chetan Chauhan though he does not fulfil any of the norms required to head the institution. He is neither an academic, scientist, technologist or a professional, leave alone having any link with fashion whatsoever.

The purpose of such appointments is hard to comprehend unless it is to debase the institutions to the point of subverting the system. This view has now got further reinforced by the manner in which the government has dealt with the governor of the country’s central bank or the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Raghuram Rajan.

Rajan, an economist of global repute, was forced to announce that he would return to his academic assignment (at the University of Chicago) when his term ends in September, thus breaking the shortest tenure of a governor in a quarter of a century.

The first response from the government was not to ask him to stay back for a second term but a polite message from the federal Finance Minister which meant that the government would not like to come in the way of his departure.

The speed with which it came left none in doubt that the government did not want to give him time to reconsider his decision in the wake of a public outcry. The first indicator of the government’s approach had come much earlier when it decided to set up a panel for the selection of a governor to the RBI. This itself was breaking from norms wherein the governor was chosen by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Finance Minister.

Clearly for the man who saw the 2008 global financial crisis long before others in the financial world, it was time to write to the regulatory bank’s employees whom he had won over soon after taking charge in September 2013. That was the time when the country was facing the worst balance of payment crisis since 1991 and the Indian rupee was ruling at 68.80 against the US Dollar and inflation was in double digits.

A day after Rajan took charge, one can recall the newspaper headlines that read ‘Rajan hits the ground running’. The measures he initiated to reduce the economic risks the country faced from global pressures have resulted in these figures on foreign exchange reserves last week. It stood at a record US$363.23bn. India was considered one among the ‘Fragile Five’ along with Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and Indonesia.

His monetary policy measures led to inflation being brought to 5.8 per cent from double digits. His effort to control interest rates certainly hurt the government’s aim of showing a higher growth. But, it was clearly his effort to cleanse the banking system that hurt business interests which have a clear nexus with the political party. Rajan, himself, had gone on record to say that big business made its profits during the good days.

And even in the bad days they did not face any risks because the banks were there to bail them out. This encouraged big houses to default on huge loans making the non-performing assets (NPAs) of banks unmanageable. The heat on some of the big houses was so much that a couple of them had to sell off their real estate to clear up old loans. Compared to those who had defaulted, Vijay Mallya was a smaller defaulter who was made the poster boy.

The pressure on big business had been such that a federal minister had gone public seeking a ‘softer’ approach on loan-defaulting big business. It was clear that the government and Rajan differed in ways to strengthen the economy. The former wanted to persist with an economic policy that favoured business interests because it would lead to generation of jobs. The former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) felt that economic policy should be pro-market.

The differences, perhaps, could have still been sorted out between the government and Rajan but for the dirty below-the-belt campaign launched by irrepressible lawmaker Subramanian Swamy. Swamy questioned Rajan’s nationalism and called him ‘mentally not fully Indian’.

Like in the case of the other so-called fringe elements in the ruling party who aired their biases on different subjects with elan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not utter a word to stop such baseless propaganda. On his part, Rajan was also more open than his predecessors in expressing doubts about the gross domestic product (GDP) numbers put out by the government or giving his perspective on the efficacy of the Make in India project.

And, then he spoke about how important a tolerant society was for economic growth. His openness was clearly anathema to the ruling dispensation. The message that goes out by such action of the government is that regulators or heads of institutions should only be ‘yes men’. For that, they are willing to sacrifice the services of a globally respected economist.

An Indian cricket coach?
Since we are talking jobs, there is one more that is equally important. It is in many ways one of the second or the third most important jobs in a cricket crazy nation. The opening is for the coach of the Indian cricket team. Unlike political appointments there is some kind of hope here because there is a sense of professionalism that exists in such appointments. Of course, opinion may differ from time to time depending on the performance of the team.

But, overall the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has learned, many a times the hard way, that the application of a professional yardstick is beneficial for all. At least, it doesn’t have to face brickbats from the millions of fans. India has benefited from having some very good foreign coaches in the past. Some who were not so effective in test cricket were, at least, good in the smaller versions of the games. But, the worst crisis of confidence in the team and the BCCI came when the Australian great Greg Chappell took charge of the team. That phase is something many cricket fans as well as some cricketers would love to forget.

But those lessons did bring about some sense of maturity to Indian cricket. More importantly to the Indian cricketers who realised that an Indian could also be a good coach and was worthwhile listening to. Today, the board has many Indians among front runners and, without doubt, it is a tough task to select the best of the lot. The board has the choice of many an experienced player turned successful coaches to select from.

It has Ravi Shastri, former team director; Sandeep Patil, who is the team selector and was a successful coach of Oman and Kenya; Anil Kumble, former captain and India’s most prolific bowler; and Lalchand Rajput, who was coach of the Indian World T-20 team when it lifted the trophy. There is also Australian Stuart Law who has coached the Sri Lankan and Bangladesh teams. The challenge for all of them is to get a team that is currently undergoing some transformation in the postretirement era of cricket greats.

For all the chimpanzees in Indian zoo’s, Suzy seems to take the cake. The 28 year old inhabitant of the Nehru zoological park in Hyderabad has been making news in recent days and has become the star attraction because of the cute things she does.

Suzy brushes her teeth every day before having coffee. No, it is not the South Indian filter coffee but ‘Nescafé‘. It loves to get a coconut oil head massage before a shampoo and a bath with a particular brand of soap. Fruits, corn flakes, nuts, honey etc are all part of her diet. But, she needs a clean blanket and a mosquito repellant for a good sleep.

And, yes, she immensely loves her chocolate for dessert! All these habits were learnt when she was living with a family before she was taken away to the zoo some years ago. Now, we now know why our children become finicky about certain things.

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]