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Advice and Dissent: My Life in Public Service- Review

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Title: Advice & Dissent: My Life in Public Service

Author: Y V Reddy

Publisher: Harper Business


Price: Rs. 799

Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) former Governor Y V Reddy’s autobiography Advice & Dissent: My Life in Public Service is significant in various ways. It gives insider’s perspective of how Central Bank of the country operates. It also gives us idea of how the ministry of economic affairs and commerce functions. Before joining RBI, he served in the finance and commerce ministry. As he was from Andhra Pradesh cadre, he had also served under various CM’s including N T Rama Rao. Author also throws light on how different finance minister’s, under whom he worked, functioned and their approach towards economic and monetary crisis.

Few former RBI governors have written books/autobiography. The first Indian Governor of RBI and former finance minister late C D Deshmukh had written his autobiography The Course of My Life. He was the first Indian to be appointed as RBI Governor in 1943 by the British authorities. Y V Reddy’s book gives details of his childhood life and his career. First, he served as Deputy Governor and then as Governor in the RBI. He was Governor from 2003 to 2008. He presided over a period of high growth, low inflation, stable rupee and ample foreign exchange reserves. The scenario was worse in 1991 when the country mortgaged its gold to meet its debt obligations.

An author is also a sensitive person. On the imposition of emergency on June 25, 1975, then young IAS officer Y V Reddy had said,” I believed it was the death of democracy.”

People are always curious to know what kind of relations RBI has with the finance minister and the government. Is RBI autonomous in real sense? To make this point clear author says,” Soon after I took over (as governor), a journalist once asked me, ‘Governor, how independent is the RBI?’ ‘I am very independent,’ I replied.’ ‘The RBI has full autonomy. I have taken permission of my finance minister to tell you that.” One must accept that autonomy is seldom granted, it has to be taken. Monetary policy is the core function assigned to the RBI. Author says,” RBI’s responsibilities include the payment and settlement system, distribution of coins and management of currency. It functions as a banker, debt manager, and advisor to the governments. For these reasons, the relationship between the RBI and the government is multifaceted, dizzyingly complex, and sometimes circular.” Author worked closely over four years with finance minister P C Chidambaram and before that with Jaswant Singh. He moved out of RBI on September 3, 2008, and Chidambaram was shifted to home ministry on November 30, 2008. Author explains his relations with PC as “most of our tensions could be described as constructive or as discord that ultimately gave rise to better ideas or outcomes.” He further says,” Chidambaram and I worked together amicably most of the time. But that seldom makes news! We disagreed sometimes, and we disagreed intensely. When we agreed, we did so equally intensely.” PC’s comment on Y V Reddy is significant when he said,” One among the brightest intellectuals living in India today…the most eminent central banker of the last decade across the world.” Author described Jaswant Singh as a gentleman and a statesman. It was he who gave author full five-year tenure as governor.

The Government of the day always wants RBI to toe their line or thinking. It is not long that Raghuram Rajan had to leave RBI. As Y V Reddy worked as Governor with NDA’s finance minister Jaswant Singh & then with UPA’s PC, some major sensational revelations were expected in his autobiography. But, they are missing. Also, he had worked with various ministers when he was in the finance, commerce ministry and even in the Andhra Pradesh. He had used diplomatic words when he referred to the ministers he had worked with. Leading economist and Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz said,” If America had a central bank chief like Y V Reddy, the US economy would not have been in such a mess.” It shows the academic brilliance of author.

Recently Maharashtra government announced Rs. 34,000 crore crop loan waiver for the farmers of the state. Punjab and UP has also announced crop loan waivers. The author had expressed his opinion on the loan waiver. He had objected to the proposal made in February 2008 to write off loans to farmers amounting to Rs. 60,000 crore. He argued his case before then PM Dr Manmohan Singh and finance minister PC. His argument was from the point of view of money and credit. The government’s contention was as author says,” Fifty per cent of the population dependent on agriculture have to be content with 15 per cent of GDP. Worse, their capita incomes were growing at about two per cent, while for the rest it was a multiple of that. This was a threat to social order unless immediate concern was demonstrated. Loan waiver was the best fit for this.” He rightly says he had no legitimacy to question the judgement of the government on social order.

About NTR, author says,” It is not widely known that it was NTR’s pioneering efforts that made Andhra Pradesh the leader in computer education and the use of technology in the government.” At the same time he also says,” NTR was a study in contrast. He was erratic one minute and resolutely determined the next; outwardly he was a master of melodrama while internally he was coldly unsentimental.”

The book provides an insider’s account of decision making at all levels during author’s career in public service, which began when he joined the IAS in 1964. The book appeals to the common reader and finance specialists.