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Subir Vithal Gokarn: A rare combination of human values and technical skills

Subir Vithal Gokarn, economist Subir Vithal Gokarn

By Charan Singh

Subir Gokarn had been serving as an Executive Director at the IMF HQ at Washington DC, representing India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan since November 2015 till July 30, 2019 when he passed away. Earlier, Gokarn was one of the Deputy Governors of the Reserve Bank of India from November 2009 to January 2013. Gokarn was the youngest Deputy Governor of the RBI when appointed and was assigned the task of supervising the Monetary Policy Department. He was also in-charge of RBI's famous research department, financial markets department and was also representing the RBI at the G-20 Deputy Forum.

He was analytically very sound which reflected in his focused speeches as the Deputy Governor of the RBI. Among his research-based work, Gokarn is most well known for his speech on inflation wherein he argued that Indians have started consuming protein-rich food and that there has been a significant change in food consumption of Indians with rising income levels. In research, he covered issues like monetary policy, banking performance, financial crisis, and financial inclusion.

Prior to joining the RBI, Gokarn had served at the global rating agency Standard and Poor's (S&P) – Asia Pacific region. He also held an academic position as an Associate Professor at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development & Research (IGIDR), Mumbai, and was Chief Economist and Industrial Finance Corporation of India Chair at NCEAR, Delhi. After completing his tenure at the RBI, Gokarn joined Brookings India as Director of Research, and Senior Fellow at Brookings, Washington DC. He contributed a fortnightly column on current economic issues to Business Standard for 13 years. He was market friendly and regularly participated in activities organized by academic institutions, government agencies and civil society organizations, and was also associated with ASSOCHAM.

Academically, Dr Gokarn completed his masters from Delhi School of Economics, and his doctorate from Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, Ohio. He was also a Fulbright scholar at Yale University.

While working with him at the RBI and the IMF, I found him very thoughtful, sincere and straightforward. When I congratulated him on his appointment as Executive Director at IMF, he asked me about the work culture, and issues being discussed and debated within the organization. His quest to go well prepared and robustly represent the country was very apparent.

He was a gentle person in his interaction with scholars and researchers, and in general, professor-like in his attitude. I vividly remember, how gracefully he handled the period of uncertainty around December 2012 when his extension as Deputy Governor of the RBI was not forthcoming from the UPA Government, despite Governor Subbarao having strongly recommended it. Amidst this period of personal turmoil for him, he continued to be helpful and caring for his staff, thereby demonstrating his leadership qualities. Despite the extension not being granted, Gokarn continued to hold the RBI in high esteem. Further, we had major differences on inflation targeting and its application to India but that did not deter him from accepting my regular invitations to speak to students at IIM Bangalore.

In my oral and written communication, I found Gokarn to be very considerate about the viewpoint of others and this quality of his endeared him to his friends and colleagues. Many a times, researchers from multilateral institutions would explicitly mention about their interaction with him, as he would explain to them the Indian domestic requirements as well as understand their compulsions too. This understanding of the context in which global and regional research is undertaken speaks about his maturity and intellectual capabilities.

Gokarn, despite his very busy schedule both at the RBI and the IMF, always found time to interact with friends. In my interaction with him, I also noted the humane side of his personality, very respectful and caring for his family, and his father.

In the passing away of Gokarn, the county has lost a rare economist combining human values with technical skills, and I have lost a friend.

(Dr Charan Singh is Chief Executive of EGROW Foundation, a Noida-based think tank)