The teacher who was an RBI governor
The world of ideas chiselled with rigorous thinking remains the main job for Raghuram Rajan and policy work an outgrowth of the same. It is this passion for the pursuit of ideas that is worth emulating
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On Teacher’s Day, Indians and young Indians in particular would do well to seek inspiration from former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor—he demitted his office on Sunday—and my teacher Raghuram Rajan. Rajan inspires as a teacher for both his professional and personal qualities.
As someone who has gained respect all over the world for his thought leadership, Rajan is worth emulating as a professional. Since time immemorial, thought leaders—be it Patanjali, Aryabhatta and Kautilya at home or Aristotle, Plato, Newton and Einstein abroad—have been admired long after their bones have been interred. After all, ideas that transform our thinking live a much longer life than any individual can hope for.
As a top-ranking student from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Rajan could have followed scores of others in pursuing a corporate career. However, he chose to pursue a PhD. Even now, he insists that academics—the world of ideas chiselled with rigourous thinking—remains his main job and policy work an outgrowth of the same. It is this passion for the pursuit of ideas that is worth emulating.
Professionally, another quality that young students must learn is Rajan’s drive to contribute to one’s nation. Many graduates from the IITs and IIMs in his generation settled in the US in search of greener pastures. Most forgot that the taxpayer of this country had paid a substantial amount for the subsidized education in the IITs and IIMs.
While most people only know about Rajan’s visible contributions in policy-making during his roles as the chief economic adviser and RBI governor, he has contributed to India since the early 2000s.
For instance, he was involved with the setting up of the Indian School of Business (ISB) in 2001. In particular, the Centre for Analytical Finance, which inter alia organizes one of the most well-recognized academic conferences in finance all over the world, was his brainchild.
For those who cynically opine that one would grab the opportunity to become the chief economic adviser or the RBI governor, it is worth remembering that his efforts involving the ISB did not bring him newspaper headlines.
Taken together with his five-year stint in public policy, Rajan leaves a legacy that would provide inner satisfaction to the staunchest patriot. Youth who plan to pursue higher studies in the US and Europe would be well-served to remember his example of giving back to one’s nation. India needs its talented youth to contribute to its development.
Rajan inspires through several of his personal qualities as well. One particular quality stands out—how grounded he has remained amidst unparalleled success. There is a culture in India that can be best described as looking up to one’s superiors and kicking down at one’s subordinates. In contrast, whether it was saluting back the cop who saluted him for being the RBI governor or sitting among everyone else at the Wankhede Stadium to watch Sachin Tendulkar’s last innings, Rajan remains consciously grounded.
I am reminded of an instance during my PhD days when I set up an appointment to meet him. As I walked towards the business school building, I heard Rajan running and calling me from a few yards behind. He was running just a couple of minutes late and so was running and calling my name to catch up with me. Here I was—a second-year PhD student and he the celebrated professor at one of the world’s most reputed universities who had recently won the equivalent of the Fields Medal in mathematics—the Fischer Black Prize. Yet, for him, none of that mattered. Nor is he the kind to belittle an individual because he is an office boy, or be in awe of someone because he is a Nobel Prize winner.
A teacher is someone who teaches not only through his ideas but also through examples. I have been privileged to learn from his ideas and by observing him even before he was a celebrity. Now, a lot of us have had the opportunity to observe him in public office. We would do well to learn from the teacher who happened to be the RBI governor.
Krishnamurthy Subramanian is associate professor of finance at the Indian School of Business and a board member at Bandhan Bank and the National Institute of Bank Management.