RBI was never a laughing matter until Urjit Patel came along. Before that the Central Bank job used to be a very boring and staid affair with jaded, bald headed men in grey suits and grand-fatherly air appearing on business TV channels from time to time and talking about the intricacies of monetary policy and announcing interest rates. Apart from bankers, pensioners (as their fixed deposit income was at stake) and the Sensex driven class, it went totally over the heads of the plebeian class.
Along came Raghuram Rajan, who added some pizzazz to the post with a touch of glamour. The pink press and the society ladies were swooning at his good looks (he was probably the first governor with full crop of hair) and athletic prowess. He was a keen marathon runner and TV cameramen used to keep an eagle's eye to spot him among the teeming runners during Mumbai marathon.
His financial wizardry and his gumption to stand up to the political bosses were dismissed as a mere footnote. He left the stage for good and with his integrity intact. Though it left many female fans heartbroken and their nascent interest to differentiate between repo rate and reverse repo rates, to impress their peers at kitty parties, died a premature death.
After his exit many names started doing rounds and most were the chip of the old block - the bald headed grey suited mandarins who had graced various posts in finance ministry and the now defunct planning commission.
The mantle finally fell on a totally unknown commodity - Urjit Patel. Political commentators yawned: Oh no! Not another Gujju. As all key posts were already cornered by them.
Patel came across as what the TV comic character Mr Bean would have been if he had gone easy on calories. Unlike his predecessor he is extremely wary of media and sometimes even provided Bean like moments when confronted with TV flashbulbs. During the high noon of demonetization, he almost succeeded in making himself invisible. When nosy TV journalists once made a rare sighting of Patel, their Salim Ali moment lasted a few nano seconds. They had to rest content witnessing his rare ability to sprint away!
The then Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das held forth on behalf of the government and the unenviable job of announcing changes in rules regarding deposit and withdrawal of money from banks on an everyday basis.
Those were the early days of demonetization and the much vaunted premise of panic stricken black money hoarders flowing their unaccounted stash in the Ganges or setting them on fire did appeal to many and sceptics were bullied to silence.
However, after the initial shock and awe the deeply ingrained jugaad mindset of the Indian populace took over. New money laundering techniques were improvised and demonetized cash started flowing into the banks. RBI, which used to reveal the exact inflow of money on a daily basis, suddenly clammed up.
Now more than eight months after the exercise, RBI continues to be coy about how much money actually got deposited in the banks. “They are still counting,” is what our Finance Minister would like us to believe. And Patel too like 'his master's voice' continues to parrot the same line in one Parliamentary committee after other.
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