It is his humour, generosity, and readiness to discuss new ideas that friends and former colleagues remember about noted economist Subir Vithal Gokarn, who passed away after a brief illness.

‘A wise friend’

Gokarn, who was India’s Executive Director at the International Monetary Fund and former Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, passed away in Washington DC at the age of 59. “He was a wise friend and a mentor to me. He also had a great sense of humour,” remembers DK Joshi, Chief Economist, CRISIL, who had worked with Gokarn for eight years, and knew for him an even longer time.

Earlier in the day, Joshi had tweeted: “What a loss! Not only one of our finest brains an equally nice human being. Will miss his generosity and wisdom.”

Surjit Bhalla, noted economist and former member of the Economic Advisory Council of the Prime Minister, said: “Even when one disagreed with him, it was in a very pleasant way and with humour in it. Unlike many bright intellectuals, Subir was interested in views which challenged his own ideas.”

Most of his friends and well-wishers are at a loss for words after his sudden demise. Many remember his love for travelling and watching cricket, despite his seemingly reserved persona. Others (including this writer) recall how he would personally look after visitors in his office at the IMF in Washington DC.

An excellent analyst

Gokarn was an excellent reader of economic situation. In an interview to BusinessLine in October 2017, Gokarn, then ED at the IMF, had said the economic slowdown was due to the goods and services tax and demonetisation.

Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International, recalls how Gokarn, as a core researcher of a project funded by DFID, India, in 1998, was instrumental in building our capacity to do evidence-based policy research on the links between liberalisation and poverty eradication in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

“The project resulted in a radical change in our thinking that rhetoric is useless when evidence supports the fact that we need to create jobs to attack poverty, and that can also come through private sector investment,” said Mehta.

Gokarn is survived by his wife Jyotsna Bapat and daughter Kanak.

Condoling his demise, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recalled his intellect and articulation of India’s concerns at the IMF. “He will always be remembered for his valuable contribution to the country,” the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

Former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said: “Subir was a sound economist, and he excelled even in his current assignment as Executive Director at the IMF.”

Gokarn was appointed by the Narendra Modi government as Executive Director on the board of International Monetary Fund (IMF) in November 2015, and represented India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan on IMF’s Executive Board. His term was set to get over in October this year.

The IMF’s Managing Director David Lipton said: “I am deeply saddened by the death of Subir Gokarn, who represented India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan at the IMF Executive Board. On behalf of the fund, I would like to express my deepest condolences to his family and the authorities of his constituency.”

Prior to his appointment at the IMF, Gokarn was Director of Research at the Brookings Institution India Centre.

RBI stint

Between 2009-12 he was also the Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India, where he oversaw monetary policy, research, financial markets, communications, and deposit insurance. He had the distinction of being the youngest RBI Governor at the time. While he was expected to get another two-year extension after his three-year term at RBI got over, it did not happen and the UPA government gave him just a one-month extension. Significantly, Urjit Patel was appointed in his place. At one time, Gokarn was even considered to be a top contender for the post of RBI Governor.

Born on October 3, 1959, Gokarn graduated from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, with a BA (Hons) in Economics, and did his Masters in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics. After working with the Bureau of Industrial Costs and Prices for two years, he pursued a PhD in Economics at Case Western Reserve University, USA, which he received in 1989. He also worked as Chief Economist of Standard & Poor’s Asia-Pacific, and was previosly Executive Director and Chief Economist of CRISIL.