The gentleman leader

G Padmanabhan | Updated on August 01, 2019 Published on August 01, 2019

Subir Gokarn was a person of candour and clarity

It is difficult to believe that Subir Gokarn is no more. He was a man with impeccable credentials academically; a brilliant mind with a surprisingly mild and affable temperament for a person of his stature. Or, as we fondly remember him at the RBI, he was a genial giant. His appointment as RBI Deputy Governor (DG) came out of the blue, as most of us knew him only through his writings in the media. But obviously Governor Duvvuri Subbarao knew better.

Through his informality and simplicity, Subir charmed all of us in no time. But the need of the hour was his professionalism. His tenure coincided with the most difficult time for any central banker. It was the time of the global financial crisis raging and markets were uncomfortably turbulent. The job of the central banker was least sought after (Dr YV Reddy in his inimitable style used to say, “If your karma is bad, you will become a central banker).

In those challenging times, Subir led from the front. He was a great listener but was clear about the path forward. He took a 360-degree view before any action, particularly if it concerned the market.

In meetings, his voice never rose. But when he spoke, which was often toward the end, people listened. Most of us were amazed with his clarity of thought and the speed with which he learned the tricks of the trade. Attending the Financial Markets Committee every morning was something I looked forward to as Subir conducted these meetings.

I can never forget an incident when the meeting went on and on without even water being served. It was a particularly difficult day. I asked him rather indiscreetly whether he was choking “liquidity” even for meetings, besides the markets. He laughed out aloud and arranged for “liquidity”. He probably enjoyed this interlude, so much so that he narrated this in his internal interview as he left the RBI.

Another important quality in him was that he welcomed discussions from stakeholders on any policy issues. He was as market participants used to say, eminently approachable. His decisions were always based on data rather than on impressions. He was frank to discuss even sensitive issues like the limitations of the Central Bank in intervening in the markets even when market turmoil persisted. We, the hardened central bankers, were aghast; but then, market participants appreciated this transparency coming from the DG-level in the RBI.

He was sought after for erudite presentations in seminars. The one event I remember fondly is the Forex Association of India (FAI) Seminar in Goa in 2012. The brilliant presentation (he had prepared every PPT himself) was the star event of the seminar.

Subir left the RBI rather unexpectedly, when his re-appointment, which was taken for granted, did not come through. But we kept in touch. He was later appointed to the IMF by the government. Both of us participated in an international seminar in Bhutan a couple of years ago. He followed it up by visiting me in the Bank of India. We always enjoyed our conversations and his comments were always laced with humour.

In life as well, he has left us so suddenly. Subir, you are gone but I shall always cherish fond memories of our association in the RBI and thereafter as well. RIP, Subir.

Through The Billion Press. The writer, a former ED of the RBI, is now Chairman of Bank of India

Published on August 01, 2019
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