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Missing Elements

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This is a festschrift. The book does not use the word, though. It uses the more pedestrian ‘Essays in Honour of C. Rangarajan'. Festschrift is used in the Prime Minister's foreword, though, where the PM talks about Rangarajan's contributions at the Planning Commission, the Reserve Bank of India, 12th Finance Commission and the Economic Advisory Council. Rangarajan needs no introduction. That said, if you plan a festschrift, you need a very good introduction on the person's contributions to intellectual debate and policy formulation. You also probably have a bibliography of his academic writings. These elements are missing in this volume. A festschrift should also try to capture perspectives from the various spheres and entities the scholar has influenced or associated with. In this case, it should have tried to capture the Planning Commission, Finance Commission and the Economic Advisory Council angles too. But there is not much on that front.

There is an impressive cast — S.S. Tarapore, K. Kanagasabapathy, Balamurali Radhakrishnan, Raghbendra Jha, Joseph Massey, D. Subbarao, Y.V. Reddy, Swayam Prava Mishra, Shyamala Gopinath, Ravi Parthasarathy, Madhu Kannan, Kartikeya Desai and Nitin Desai, K.G. Karmakar, K.C. Chakrabarty, Udaibir Das, Ravi Narain, Ashima Goyal and Kirit Parikh. As is to be expected, most (not all) papers are insightful. The introduction by Sameer Kochhar attempts to, first, capture Rangarajan's contribution to policymaking and second, summarise the papers into an integrated conceptual whole. As for the latter, there is only a brief summary of what each paper says. The conceptual structure is missing. As for the first, the introduction is a bit too hagiographic for my taste. Kochhar is a friend. But there is a time and a place for such stuff. Such praise affects the volume's credibility.

The most interesting paper comes from Tarapore, with the rather boring-sounding title of ‘Episodes From Monetary And Other Financial Policies (1982-1997).' The subtitle, ‘An Anecdotal Presentation' is more revealing and there are gems in what Tarapore tells us. "Rangarajan's appointment as deputy governor in February 1982 raised many eyebrows and explicit doubts were expressed by the then governor I.G. Patel... said his impeccable academic credentials as an economist were beyond doubt, but wondered whether the emollient professor would be able to handle the strong anti-establishment streak in the RBI... Patel unequivocally told Rangarajan to forget Gujarat-IIM economics and to concentrate on practical issues of central banking policies... It is not known that Rangarajan had seriously considered resigning from the post."

There is only one place where Tarapore ducks. "Manmohan Singh left the RBI suddenly in January 1985 to take over as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission." Tarapore is sure to know why Singh was replaced by R.N. Malhotra.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 18-06-2012)