(Blog by Nidhi Mahesh)
Over the weekend the media was abuzz with stories, scoops, opinions and speculation on Raghuram Rajan’s wish to return to academia after “consultation with the government”. Reactions have been pouring in from every hue- from patronising to genuinely concerned to ridiculously ill-informed to highly dramatic. In my experience, I have never seen such a colourful spectrum of responses to the decision of a technocrat to continue or discontinue in his office. Times are changing, and this may be a reflection of that. But is it merely that!
I have no opinion on Rajan’s ability or inability to steer India’s economic growth, what I am curious to see and understand is how an employer-employee dynamic comes into play when you have a clash of personalities. Let’s admit, Rajan has been the most talked about RBI Governor in recent history and his every utterance has made it to front pages of national dailies. Was this a reason for his not too warm relationship with the Govt. of India, his employer?
Let’s look at this whole saga from the objective management principles’ lens. A company would want its employees to reflect its philosophy and promote its brand. Nothing wrong with that, after all, employees are the biggest brand ambassadors for any organization. But does a company require its brand ambassadors to be sycophants or “Cheerleaders”?
In his opinion piece, Chandan Mitra writes Rajan showed “less-than-patriotic enthusiasm to play cheerleader, expected to tom-tom his government's achievements, rather than be economical with his praise”. Is that what the Government expects its autonomous institutions to be – “cheerleaders” who “tom-tom” the so called achievements? This raises serious concerns over the intent and character of those ruling the country. It is important for the organisation, in this case GoI, to be seen as open, transparent and consultative as against opinionated, autocratic and combative with its employees.
In his interview to a leading news channel, Rajan insisted over and over again that he saw India’s growth story as a glass half full, that there was loads of work to be done and that there were challenges that must not be overlooked. His seems to be the voice of caution and as he puts it “not boasting” of achievements. And this perhaps is the bone of contention, the reason for the clash, of what many columnists refer to as “cultural orientation”. A classic case of show off versus modesty, optics versus substance and may be marketing versus product strength?
The fact is that the personality of GoI, as reflected in the ways of working of its leader and his team, and that of the autonomous institution RBI, led by a well-known and increasingly popular technocrat, that Raghuram Rajan surely is, in his own right, did not match. The fact that he was trolled is all but expected, but that he will be lauded with equal or more fervour, not only by the political opponents of the ruling class but by influencers such as industry, subject matter experts and also by general masses (who generally do not get too muddled with such thigs as the RBI policies) only made the drift wider.
What appears to be the case now is despite his not so popular measures and a strict steering of the RBI, Rajan made more friends than the GoI bargained for. It, of course, did not get a cheerleader in him, and to its dismay even the “nationalist” and “patriotic” stick that it chose to beat him with, in fact boomeranged. If his Green Card is seen as a slur on his love for the country, then our dear PM’s eloquent appeal to the NRI community, in all his extravagant foreign trips, to contribute to India’s growth, is hollow.
What is evident from the very public disenchantment between RBI and Ministry of Finance is a lack of tact. It is not about who is right and who is wrong – it is about what kind of perceptions are being formed. And in this battle of perceptions, Rajan seems to have won hands down – the saffron supporters with their exuberant rhetoric in applauding the Government have completely missed the point. Sycophants don’t make an organization, critical thinkers do. Is that too difficult to understand?