Former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan said on Sunday that people in authority should tolerate criticism, as suppression of dissent is a “sure-fire recipe” for policy mistakes.
In a post on LinkedIn, Rajan said that what makes India strong is its culture of diversity, debate and tolerance. “What makes it weak is narrow-mindedness, obscurantism, and divisiveness,” Rajan wrote.
“If every critic gets a phone call from a government functionary asking them to back off, or gets targeted by the ruling party’s troll army, many will tone down their criticism,” the former RBI governor wrote. “The government will then live in a pleasant make-believe environment, until the harsh truth can no longer be denied.”
“Undoubtedly, some of the criticism, including in the press, is ill-informed, motivated, and descends into ad hominem personal attacks,” he said. “I have certainly had my share of those in past jobs. However, suppressing criticism is a sure-fire recipe for policy mistakes.”
Rajan, who finished his term as RBI governor in September 2016 and was not granted an extension, is currently a professor of finance at University of Chicago. “Governments that suppress public criticism do themselves a gross disservice,” Rajan said.
The former RBI governor gave the example of Nani Palkhivala, a jurist he called a “tireless champion of constitutional liberties, of human rights and individual freedom, and of economic freedom”. Rajan said that every Indian has been impacted by the life work of Palkhivala.
Rajan said Palkhivala had been a lonely voice of opposition to the socialism practised in India in the 20th century. Palkhivala was once upset at the leak of Indian Institute of Technology entrance exam papers, but yet showed optimism, Rajan said. He said Palkhivala asserted that India “always seemed to find a way of coming out of the morass”.
“Yes, we have our weaknesses and our excesses, but our democracy is self-correcting, and even while some institutions weaken, others come to the fore,” Rajan wrote. “India’s is a dynamic society, ever changing, ever rejuvenating. However, I will argue that we do face important challenges to our society today, and we need to fight the forces that would make of India a static, unequal, obscurantist and complacent society. In doing so, we will walk the path trodden by Nana Palkhivala himself.”
Rajan’s article comes days after members of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council who expressed concern about the economy were dropped from the body. The government had on September 25 announced that it has reconstituted the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister for a period of two years. The government dropped National Institute of Public Finance and Policy member Rathin Roy and Brookings Institution member Shamika Ravi from the council.
The Indian economy recorded the slowest growth rate in five years, at 5.8% for the April-June quarter. Following this, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a slew of corrective measures, including a cut in corporate taxes from 35% to 22%.
Now, follow and debate the day’s most significant stories on Scroll Exchange.