Updated: March 16, 2016 8:28:04 am
Given his penchant for punctuality, it was little surprise that Raghuram Rajan arrived five minutes ahead of time. He wasn’t the only one though. As the clouds gathered on a stormy Saturday evening, a large crowd had already turned up to listen to the RBI Governor deliver the first Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture at the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi.
The audience included luminaries from the worlds of finance, government and entertainment — former Union ministers P Chidambaram and Arun Shourie; actors Shabana Azmi and Sharmila Tagore; industrialist Anu Aga, legal consultant Zia Mody and poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar, among others.
The Ramnath Goenka Lecture series has been launched by The Express Group to mark 25 years of the passing away of Ramnath Goenka, the founder of The Indian Express. After the Ramnath Goenka Journalism Awards, the lecture is yet another initiative by the Ramnath Goenka Foundation to celebrate intelligent debate.
After a brief introduction by Consulting Editor Seema Chishti, the evening began with a welcome address by The Indian Express Chief Editor Raj Kamal Jha, who noted that this year also marked 25 years since Rajan received his PhD from MIT that dealt with the relationship between borrowers and lenders, a subject straight from today’s headlines. The lecture was followed by a question-and-answer session moderated by Sunil Jain, Managing Editor, The Financial Express. Rajan fielded questions on a range of subjects — from growing inequality to the government’s handling of fiscal deficit, the need to tackle criminality of those who don’t pay back their loans to encouraging lending.
Speaking about reforms not being popular, Arun Shourie, minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet, said that one of the failures of successive governments is that they do not explain reforms. “Explain, explain, explain. That doesn’t happen… I would think that the political class is not doing as much as it should in this regard,” Shourie said.
When CPI leader D Raja spoke about growing inequality since the ’90s and the “crucial role” the public sector has in bridging them, Rajan agreed that the public sector can be “very useful” in a mixed economy and said, “Whether it is the public sector or private sector, what is important is that they be efficient in what they do… I think that the pressure is on us to create jobs. To my mind, the best form of equalisation is when somebody has a good job, and with that good job comes the pride of doing work for which they are getting adequately compensated. And so all our thinking has to be how do we spread good jobs across the economy. Not jobs which are funded by the taxpayer as make-believe jobs but real jobs, where they actually do productive work.”
To The Indian Express columnist Surjit S Bhalla’s comment on inflation and interest rates, Rajan said, “I think we are in a very sweet spot and the tenor of my talk is let us not waste it by doing the wrong things but let us do the right things. We can increase productivity, increase growth in a variety of ways and we absolutely should have higher growth. We need higher growth and we will have higher growth.”
Actor Shabana Azmi said in a lighter vein that she wouldn’t want to get drawn into a conversation on the economy with Rajan. “You know, it is like asking Dr Rajan to comment on films. If he is willing to do that, I am willing to talk about the economy. I’ll pass that, thank you very much,” she said.
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