Guv Raghuram Rajan controversies: From ‘andho mein kana raja’ to poll cash, all you need to know in 5 pts

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New Delhi | Updated: June 07, 2016 9:25 PM

For the present incumbent of the chair of the Governor of Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Raghuram Rajan, there has been much excitement generated...

India has been often described as ‘the bright spot in the global economy’, but Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan saw this as a case of “the one-eyed man” being king in the land of the blind. (Reuters)India has been often described as ‘the bright spot in the global economy’, but Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan saw this as a case of “the one-eyed man” being king in the land of the blind. (Reuters)

He may be occupying a seat that would seem dull and dreary and his daily job being spent in poring over endless streams of data, but for the present incumbent of the chair of the Governor of Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Raghuram Rajan, there has been much excitement generated, not so much from his monetary policy review decisions, but more from the quaint manner he has expressed his views on a number of topics entirely unrelated to his job, which have created a lot of heat and dust in the political firmament. To be fair, the Governor has managed to link these comments in an ingenious manner to the Indian economy, democracy and future well being of the populace. Check out what Raghuram Rajan said that got him into trouble:

1. India has been often described as ‘the bright spot in the global economy’, but Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan saw this as a case of “the one-eyed man” being king in the land of the blind. His full comment – Rajan was asked for his take on the ‘bright spot’ theory and what was his “secret sauce” to ensure this positioning – was, “I think we have still to get to a place where we feel satisfied. We have this saying – ‘In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king’. We are a little bit that way.” But the comment backfired as in Hindi language, the phrase , ‘Aandho mein kana raja’ has negative connotations.

That this upset many in the government became immediately clear as both FM Arun Jaitley and Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman expressed their unhappiness by saying that the Indian economy was doing very well, even if things could have been better. FM Jaitley virtually rebutted Rajan’s remarks, saying compared to the rest of the world, the Indian economy was growing much faster and, in fact, the fastest of them all. At 7.5 per cent growth rate any other country in the world would be celebrating but it is a tribute to India’s growth story that at this rate “we are still impatient because we know that our potential is to do distinctively better”, FM added.

2. Rajan again got into trouble with the establishment by stepping into the then raging intolerance debate saying that tolerance and tradition of debate and openness help form the foundation for current and future success of the country. Speaking to the students at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, Rajan said tolerance means not being so insecure about one’s ideas that one cannot subject them to challenge. “The first essential is to foster competition in the market place for ideas. Without this competition for ideas, we have stagnation.” Raghuram Rajan said.

With a number of politicians, from the Congress and other Opposition parties, artists (award wapsi), to iconic actors Aamir Khan and Shahrukh Khan expressing their fears on the same subject, Governor Raghuram Rajan’s views elicited surprise and generated more controversy. However, it did not prevent Rajan from defending his speech calling for multi-ethnic, multi-religious India to embrace open public debate. He said, that he gave the speech to new graduates so they would understand the importance of cultivating an environment of free speech.

3. Raghuram Rajan also upset bureaucrats when he said that they should understand the ‘aam aadmi’ and asked them to function for a day without their assistants. “One could, as senior officials, try to spend a day doing some task which they ask their assistants to do but without revealing who they are and getting the assistance,” Rajan said. “Perhaps, then we will have a much better sense of what Aam Aadmi faces and a much greater sympathy for changing the system than we have otherwise,” he added.

4. With so many of his statements being ‘wrung’ out of context, Raghuram Rajan sought to dispel the aura of protest that was increasingly surrounding him, but his delivery was indeed ‘special’. Here’s what Rajan said, “So, the interview became moderately controversial with the implication that I was denigrating our success rather than emphasising the need to do more. My general point is every phrase or word a public figure speaks is intensely wrung out for meaning”. The governor added, when words are ‘hung out to dry out of context’ as in a newspaper headlines, it becomes fair game for anyone who wants to ‘fill in meaning to create mischief’. “Worst of course are words or proverbs that have common usage elsewhere because those can most easily and deliberately be misinterpreted,” he added.

5. The recent state assembly elections led to police seizing hundreds of crores in cash and, taking note of this rise in currency in circulation Raghuram Rajan said the high year-on-year rise in currency in circulation in fiscal 2016 could be because cash with the public goes up close to polls. “You can guess as to the reasons why,” he said. “You can see that there is a spike not just in the state going to polls but also in the neighbouring state. There is something there and we need to understand it better,” Rajan added. SBI chief Arundhati Bhattacharya too had flagged this a few days earlier, saying the RBI should check the reasons for the rise in cash with the public. According to Rajan, cash with the public was over Rs 50,000 crore more than the RBI had estimated for this time of the year and therefore needs to be analysed. In the past, too, just before polls, there has been a rise in currency with the public with anecdotal reports of parties wooing voters with cash, for example in fiscal 2003-04 and 2011.

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