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Profile Vs. Performance: Raghuram Rajan, Gajendra Chauhan And 3 Military Generals

27/06/2016 8:27 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Raghuram Rajan, governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), speaks during a Bloomberg Television India interview in Mumbai, India, on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. Rajan warned of a breakdown in global policy coordination a day after the Federal Reserve further cut stimulus, weakening emerging-market currencies from the rupee to the Turkish Lira. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Mahabharata is one of the greatest epics from ancient India, and when this text was adapted into a TV series in the late 1980s, the role of Yudhisthira (the eldest among the Pandavas) was played by Gajendra Chauhan. The actor then slipped into relative obscurity, until last year, when the NDA government appointed him as the chairperson of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), sparking protests by students at the institute and major controversy outside the campus. If you see the common thread in most of the criticism directed against Mr. Chauhan, it was that he was a "lightweight" candidate. There were barely any comments on his administration abilities, but plenty was said about him not being a leading light of Indian cinema. Regardless of whether his appointment was right or wrong, it seems a bit unfair to use evaluation parameters which may not be fully relevant. History is replete with examples of high-profile guys failing and low-profile ones succeeding. Remember a certain P V Narasimha Rao in 1991?

History is replete with examples of high-profile guys failing and low-profile ones succeeding. Remember a certain P V Narasimha Rao in 1991?

Among the towering figures from the Second World War, three generals always had a very special place in the chronicles of military history -- Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (Monty) of Britain, Erwin Rommel of Germany and George S Patton of USA. Certainly, Rommel had a "larger than life" profile and he was seen as a hero not just in Germany but among the soldiers of the allied forces too. Patton was the most flamboyant and also an instinctive leader of soldiers... but if you do a very cold analysis, Monty was no less effective; in fact, it may even be argued that he was the most effective of the three. Yet, as history shows us, the generations that came afterwards always held a greater fascination for Rommel or Patton than for Monty. It is a reality that some people get more credit and appreciation for the same kind of work than many others who may not be so lucky.

Now, to come to Mr. Raghuram Rajan. A lot has been written about his departure, and you can only be surprised at how this rather boring job (RBI governor) has generated so much interest among the public and in the media. Many people are upset that he didn't get a second term because he did a very good job overall. Also, his legacy is much more important from the standpoint of his efforts in addressing the NPA issues Indian Banks are facing, though his performance on currency stability and inflation control was also above par. However, despite whatever people say, I don't really think that the government interfered in his job and didn't allow him to function independently. At times, he took a stand which was not liked by the powers that be but the responsible functionaries in the government accepted those decisions of Mr Rajan with grace. However, the reaction to his views on general issues was mixed. Not all would agree, but Rajan breached his brief when he talked about issues like intolerance and other politically sensitive subjects.

The RBI as an institution is much larger than an individual.

While he had a right to express his opinions, the fact is he was not an expert on those matters and his view was formed more by what the media highlights rather than a deep and direct understanding of ground reality. He simply should not have done that. It is also possible that he didn't really want a second term. Otherwise, he would have been more careful with his words. Why do I say this? He did a great job but he may not have done better in his second term and perhaps he wanted to leave on a high (many second-term performances have been remarkably less stellar - for example, Indira Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, many US presidents). Also, another possibility is that he was not sure if he would be given another term and thought that it is better to sign off than to wait for a government decision.

No doubt, Rajan did a great job but many of our earlier RBI governors were no puppets. They may have had a much lower public profile than Rajan, who had rock-star status. But, they didn't simply toe the government line always. Again, my assessment is that Rajan did great but it is also true that his profile was much larger than his work -- in direct contrast to earlier RBI governors. So, I am not excessively worried. Yes, the RBI governor is a political appointment but as long as the next person is reasonably capable, I think that all will be fine. The RBI as an institution is much larger than an individual. It's true that individuals together constitute the core of an institution, but great institutions shouldn't rely completely on one person. They should continue to function properly and correctly under a new leader, unless that person is a complete disaster. Let's hope that the government is not too adventurous with this posting at least.

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