From Half-Politician To Activist: The Continued Downslide Of Raghuram Rajan

From Half-Politician To Activist: The Continued Downslide Of Raghuram Rajan

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Nov 3, 2021 03:48 PM +05:30 IST
From Half-Politician To Activist: The Continued Downslide Of Raghuram RajanRaghuram Rajan, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India (Satyabrata Tripathy/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
  • How Raghuram Rajan reduced himself to no more than a Greta Thunberg with a PhD.

A year-and-a-half ago, when the coronavirus had us in the thrall of a debilitating first wave, Swarajya wrote an evocative piece on America-based ‘rockstar’ economist Raghuram Rajan.

It called Rajan a ‘half-politician’, and said that he couldn’t be taken seriously on economics any longer, because his punditry lacked intellectual honesty.

That piece from May 2020 was occasioned by Rajan’s fairly otiose censure of measures announced by the Indian government, to ameliorate the economic chaos caused by the epidemic and lockdowns. He had little to offer by way of constructive criticism, but much by way of blustery political fusillades — especially in an interview with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

Could a real intellectual, people wondered, discard economic theory for political ideology at the patent cost of academic credibility?

In November 2021, Rajan is back in the news for plugging a remarkably negativist line on India, exactly when everything we know tells us that a recovery out of the epidemic-triggered chaos is fully and firmly on.

Addressing the NALSAR University of Law, virtually, on 29 October, Rajan perorated to imply that India’s outlook on most metrics was dim.

His standout phrases included dismay about our declining democratic credentials, a lack of sustainable, inclusive growth, intolerance hurting community sentiments, and the need to protect fundamental rights.

"In recent years we have gotten a little less confident. Our belief in economic future has diminished...the pandemic toll has further diminished our self-belief or 'atma vishwas' even further while pushing many in the middle-class into poverty," he said.

Rajan also stressed on a supposedly-tanking economy and its social fallout: "As our economic performance is diminishing, our democratic credentials, our willingness to debate, to respect and tolerate differences is also taking a hit … community sentiment is very easily hurt"

Although Rajan did leave out the fluidity of genders, and peace on earth, the spirit of the festive season generously permits us to believe that these were but minor oversights.

Now, such talk might have been fine if the speaker was a Kanhaiya Kumar or a Kavita Krishnan — you don’t expect much else from such sorts; but to hear an economist of international repute, and a former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, proclaim that he saw nothing really positive in India’s journey, speaks more of the man and his views, than of the true lay of the land.

The reason is that, within days of Rajan trying to sell us his defeatist act, a deluge of data arrived, showing that matters were actually to the contrary. The GST collections for October 2021 were the second best in history, and a bumper 24 per cent higher on a year-to-year basis.

In the same month, digital transactions through UPI crossed the hundred-billion-dollar mark, far outstripping the rest of the world. And 78 per cent of Indian adults had received at least one dose of an Indian-made vaccine.

What then are we to make of a man, who prophesises so much doom-and-gloom with the felicity of a sophist?

The simple answer is that Rajan represents an age on the wane. This is because, at the collective level, intellect tends to give way to desperation at a loss of power. That in turn demotes logic, to below efforts to undo that precious loss. And when those efforts fail, then feral reductionism induces an absolutist, Sith stance (as in: ‘If you are not with me, then you are against me’) which only makes matters worse.

At the personal level, Rajan has probably batted himself out of a Nobel, by the path he has chosen; after all, the Swedes would surely be somewhat chary, of gifting such a high encomium to someone who sees illusions of recession and decrepitude instead of the reality of growth.

And at the intellectual level, the shift has been from intellectual to half-politician to activist, with the worst part being that this tumble is entirely of his own making.

Even then, for him to descend so swiftly from Jeremiah to Cassandra to Sourpuss, within a week, was, to put it politely, quite an ‘achievement’. Look at the sequence: at NALSAR, Rajan played a Jeremiah, or a doom-monger, to force shifts in policy; when the government didn’t react, he became a Cassandra, or an ignored prophet of doom; and that rejection made him a Sourpuss — an excessively frustrated pessimist. Who can he blame but himself for this?

The point is that if someone really wished to force the changes they sought, then they would take the electoral plunge and contest their nemesis with gusto. But, the time for sitting in America and passing judgment on India is long over. Thus, if an individual won’t do that, and tries instead to keep their hands clean, then, Happy Diwali is all one can say, with or without Bindi or Barium.

Consequently, if Rajan’s decline from academician to half-politician was occasioned by an inability to maintain standards of intellectual honesty on economic matters, then his further decline to narrative-building activist is the result of a further inability to remain objective on socio-political matters.

So, where does that leave our man?

Today, by his deeds, words, stance, and abjuration of objectivity, Raghuram Rajan has reduced himself to no more than a Greta Thunberg with a PhD. Such is life.

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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