Dear Dr Duvvuri Subbarao,
Congratulations on becoming the new governor of the Reserve Bank of India. I’m sure you know everything about inflation and money supply and other such stuff and it would be silly to advise you on these matters. Of course, that has never stopped us hacks from offering unsolicited advice. But there are certain dos and don’ts that will help you fit snugly into your new job.
For instance, I’m sure the first thing on your mind is where you’ll stay in Mumbai. But don’t go asking your colleagues in the RBI about accommodation, they’ll think you’re asking for money. Remember that, at the RBI, when someone talks about accommodation, what he wants is not a place to stay but an advance. Sometimes, he may vary that request by asking for a liquidity injection. There’s no need to call a doctor, he merely wants more money. Once you have settled into your new job, you’ll learn that the approved method of refusing requests for liquidity injections is to gently point out to your cook, gardener, or secretary that you can’t accede to her request, as it would fan inflationary expectations. That is bound to stump them.
On your drive from the airport to the office, if your chauffeur starts talking about how the precipitation has been both temporally and spatially variable, there’s no need to think he’s gone off his rocker. He’s merely making small talk by saying we’ve been having intermittent rains lately. But you should start worrying if he complains of supply inelasticities, it means he’s running out of petrol. Also, if a colleague tells you that your new residence may have a low resilience to moisture stress, you should get even more worried — he’s telling you your house is damp.
Always remember that the RBI governor never walks, he perambulates. He never changes anything, he modulates. And he never says anything, he articulates. Do not flinch when a polite ‘How are you?’ elicits the response: ‘The central scenario at the prevailing juncture is free from turbulence or contagion.’ He means he’s fine. It’s common for junior colleagues to veer the conversation around to the need for endogenous growth — she’s trying to tell you she wants a promotion. Union leaders will remind you that your staff needs to be ‘incentivised by continuing with measured responses on an ongoing basis’ which means they want bigger increments. And always remember the most important rule: a central banker never ever does anything, he merely operationalises. If you want to be taken to the local disco, you must express your desire to operationalise the process of shaking a leg.
This might be tough at first, but it’s not as tough as the differential equations you solved at IIT. I guarantee that soon you too will be answering pesky reporters with a thoroughly professional response like, “Should circumstances so warrant, I propose to take pre-emptive actions in a calibrated manner in line with evolving conditions.” It’s part of the aura and mystique of high finance that its language must be polysyllabic, polyphonic, polychromatic, polymorphous, polygamous and roly-poly. Okay, maybe not the last two.
For us hacks, the big question is what nickname to give you. Every central banker worth his salt has one. The European Central Bank has ‘Tricky’ Trichet, the Bank of England ‘Swervin’ Mervyn, the US Fed ‘Helicopter’ Ben. RBI chiefs haven’t really earned their nicknames, although Dr Jalan did have a moment of glory when his raising interest rates so incensed the market they dubbed it ‘The Jalanwala Bagh massacre’. Your predecessor Yaga Venugopal Reddy too didn’t have a sobriquet, although he was undoubtedly haunted by the thought that some sub-editor somewhere would succumb to the temptation of calling him, “Ga-ga Yaga.”
What would you like to be known as? Will you ram through reforms, becoming ‘Man-in-a-hurry’ Duvvuri? Or will you take a more sophisticated approach, earning yourself the title of ‘Dude’ Duvvuri? Here’s wishing you all the best, so that you go down in the history books as ‘Super’ Subba.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint