Will Raghuram Rajan get another term as RBI Governor? – Just a look back at Rajan’s debut speech at the RBI on September 4, 2013 could show what is still left to be done at the banking regulator.
Former Reserve Bank of India governor Duvvuri Subbarao once said that the job of a central bank chief is the easiest one because all that he does is change interest rates. Come 2016, once the Monetary Policy Committee gets life, Raghuram Rajan will be deprived of even the easiest job. So, what is left for Rajan to do at the RBI?
Interest rate-setting may be the most watched event in a central bank’s calendar, but there are a score and more things that central bankers do — especially in a country like India where it also polices banks, financial markets as well as protects consumer interests which have an equal bearing on the economic system.
Just a look back at Rajan’s debut speech at the RBI on September 4, 2013 could show what is still left to be done at the banking regulator. Rajan’s agenda ran the gamut from inflation targeting, to inclusive growth to differentiated banks, to financial markets to trading platform for receivables, to clean-up of banks’ books, throwing out crooked promoters and protecting households. “This is a part of my short-term time table for the Reserve Bank,” he said.
Even if the glamourous job of rate-setting is democratised with a panel of members doing it, there is enough and more for Rajan to do where revitalising the 80-year-old institution is as important as cleaning up the banking system. Will he get another term to complete his agenda when the current one ends in September?
With nine months to go, even Rajan can’t be sure of what’s in store, but the fact is that it would be tough for the government to find a replacement for him, and the former Chicago University finance professor would have enough and more exciting job offers.
Golfers don’t talk about birdies and caddies on the course these days. It is a given that Rajan would head back to Chicago because he has managed to rub the government the wrong way with his un-governor like views from ‘Make for India’, a reference to Hitler at the DD Kosambi ideas festival, to a recent discourse on ‘tolerance.’
That inference may be as misleading as the one that was doing the rounds when Narendra Modi was elected prime minister: that Bharatiya Janata Party’s affiliation with the business community could lead to Rajan getting fired for not hastening interest rate cuts.
Instead, we have businesses now blaming Modi for not doing much and demanding they be rescued from banks who are after them for defaults. It was the packaging of Rajan’s speeches rather than the content which could make one conclude that the governor was taking a dig at Modi whenever he got an opportunity.
Modi never defined what is ‘Make in India’ and everyone assumed whatever suited them. Rajan probably clarifies when he said, “there is a danger when we discuss ‘Make in India’, of assuming it means a focus on manufacturing, an attempt to follow the export-led growth path that China followed. I don’t think such a specific focus is intended.”
Then comes the reference to Hitler during whose rule everything functioned efficiently. But he still led Germany to ruin. For those keen to project Modi as a dictator, it was grist to the mill. But the message was the opposite which was that India’s administration was weak.
“We will have to strengthen government (and regulatory) capability resisting the temptation to implant layers and layers of checks and balances even before capacity has taken root,” Rajan said. If one wants to see his acknowledgement of Modi moving in a different direction it was this: “The political dialogue has also moved, from giving hand-outs to creating jobs.” In fact, his socalled view on intolerance is a lesson for Modi on why the PM should ignore it when there is a tendency to make a mountain out of a molehill.
“Tolerance can take the offence out of the debate, and indeed instill respect. If I go berserk every time a particular button is pressed, rebels are tempted to press the button, while mischief-makers indeed do so. But if I do not react predictably, and instead ask button pressers to explain their concerns, rebels are forced to do the hard work of marshalling arguments. So, rebels do not press the button frivolously, while the thuggish mischief makers who abound in every group are left without an easy trigger.”
What does Rajan make of the debate and discussions about his words and deeds? “The press is worried about this relationship. I hate to say, the press is a little bit like a ‘Narad Muni’ carrying tales from one side to another and creating apparent tension where none exists,” Rajan told ET. “Sometimes, it seems to us that somebody is trying to put some mirchmasala into a boring relationship.”
Is it all hunky-dory between Rajan and Modi? “Once in two months I meet Raghuram. He comes with three or four slides. And he makes me understand the issues so perfectly that he may be the best teacher, too,” Modi had said. “This means the government and the RBI are on the same wavelength, and that is why it is possible.” It is no secret that there are enough Narad Munis loitering the corridors of power. But a few events cement the belief that the equation between the two may be better than what is perceived.
When inflation targeting as proposed by Rajan was not acceptable to an administration which appointed him as governor, Modi accepted it without much fuss.
The proposal to shift regulation of money market to the Sebi from the RBI was scrapped after the RBI made a case against it. Moving public debt management away from the RBI was also dropped when it questioned the skill availability at the government to perform that function.
And last but not the least, the Monetary Policy Committee. The government junked the suggestions in the Financial Code and went for the one that the RBI is comfortable with.
Do all these mean that Rajan gets another term? It is a $34 billion question. Mythology has it that Narada Muni’s conspiracies are aimed to create a wedge, but they always end up in broader good.
Source: Economic Times