Addressing students in 1919, Max Weber thus defined politics, “[it] means striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state.” By adopting rule-based policies, taking on crony capitalism and trying to infuse ideas in the intellectual ecosphere of the country, the very apolitical Raghuram Govind Rajan, just by doing his dharma, nudged us towards a new equilibrium in the Weberian distribution. The old guard, though, it turns out, still has old ideas.
When I first met Rajan, I was in awe of him. No, he was not the Rockstar Governor then. He had just joined the ministry of finance as the chief economic adviser, and I along with two other economists were to be his “team”. He insisted that he be addressed as Raghu, not Dr Rajan, and definitely not Sir. I was in awe because in a country starved of intellectual heroes, I was getting to work with one of mine
Growing up in the 1990s and 2000s meant that our heroes were narrowly defined — the icons of liberalisation, the poster children of new money. We were in a rush, to climb the ladder that had for so long been denied. We wanted to be CEOs and Tata-Birla-Ambani, not academics. We wanted to have safe jobs, not generate ideas. Why a movie like 3 Idiots connected with the youth was because it captured the herd; the herd saw themselves in it.
Many will list the great things Raghu has done at the helm of the Reserve Bank of India. Others will criticise. But, in the midst of all of that, I hope we recognise what Raghu meant for the youth. My 17-year old cousin, born and brought up in a small war-laden town called Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir, called me a few weeks ago to seek guidance on choosing undergrad courses. “What do you want to do?” I asked. “A PhD in economics, because I want to be like Raghuram Rajan,” pat came the reply. We all need heroes; as a nation we need the right kind of heroes; and as a society we had long forgotten intellectual heroes. Raghu created a novel space and owned it.
Reasonable people can have differing opinions on whether Raghu should have made speeches outside the ambit of monetary policy. “Would you ever see Janet Yellen do this?” Perhaps not, but is that the right question to ask? Do we believe that his speeches raised the level of debate in the country? Do we believe that having the platform allowed him to be heard in a way that was not possible otherwise? Were the words ever lacking in nuance? Did they, in the least, adversely affect the Indian markets? And, while we are at it, did they influence students positively?
Writing on these pages, another man of ideas, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, (‘A Rajan a day’, IE, May 31) asked, “Why is his [Rajan’s] credibility miles ahead of anyone else in government?” To which he then remarked, “credibility is not generated by ‘talking things up’, it is generated by the confidence that you have the ability to speak truth.” Raghu spoke the truth, and he did it with an integrity that befits adulation, and more importantly emulation.
Gandhiji once stated, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” We must always debate policies, and since policies are seeped in rabid politics, some may end up debasing the individual in the process. It is unfortunate, but it happens time and again. Surely we have men and women of integrity in the corridors of power who can categorically discredit the debasement and anchor the debate back on to policy. Or do we? We are all a bit poorer by the failure of our elected representatives to categorically denounce a senseless attack by Subramanian Swamy on Raghu’s probity.
The departure will, of course, not be a doomsday for the Indian economy. Institutions are bigger than people. Raghu knows that all too well. Once, while drafting a speech that the minister of finance was to deliver at Harvard University, he asked the team to brainstorm some ideas with him. When I sent him a template, I wrote below in small letters: “by Team Rajan.” He was swift in pointing out my mistake. “This is not team Rajan, it is team chief economic adviser. And I work for this office just as you do.” As he leaves the RBI, it is worth reminding ourselves that an institution is defined by the people it chooses to embrace.
For me and for a whole generation of youth who wants to work in “the realm of ideas,” Governor Rajan leaves an unparalleled legacy. I hope it makes us contemplate what kind of heroes we want to have. When I said goodbye to him at the ministry of finance to return to my PhD a month before he was to move to the RBI, I wrote a few lines that now seem apt to share.
Fitoor ka itihas ghulam hai/Dil ke bandon ki bebaak syahi se likha yeh pukhta kalam hai/Jaagna uska shabdon ka hi nahin ek ehsas ka bhi parinam hai/ Paya hai karm-e-fiitoor maine bhi aur ustad ka naam Raghuram hai.
History is subservient to the ones with unbridled passion/ This fact has been etched in the fearless ink of great men/ To rouse the said passion, is as much a work of books as it is a work of realisation/ I found the karma of passion in my work, and the name of the reason is Raghuram.