Dr Raghuram Rajan, governor of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) ended months of speculation and suspense and told his colleagues that he was not keen on second term as chief of central bank. While Nomura says this news (Dr Rajan's decision not to continue) is negative in near terms, according to ratings agency Fitch, from a policy perspective, policies are more important than personalities.
In a release, Thomas Rookmaaker, Director in Fitch's Asia-Pacific Sovereigns Group, says, "In the past years, significant policy changes have been set in motion in India, not in the least by governor Rajan. The problems associated with both high inflation and weak bank balance sheets have been recognised, and policy makers are doing something about it, including through the set-up of new policy frameworks. Such institutionalization implies support for these policies beyond the governor, also among government officials and broader within the RBI."
"Dr Rajan added credibility to the RBI and there is no obvious successor of a similar stature," Nomura says, adding, "There is also a risk of some delay in unfinished reforms such as formation of a monetary policy committee, bank restructuring and allowing repo transactions in the corporate bond markets."
The government will announce his successor shortly. As per media reports, the potential candidates for the top post at RBI include Arvind Subramanian, Shaktikanta Das, Arvind Panagariya, Urjit Patel, Arundhati Bhattacharya and RBI's former deputy governors Rajesh Mohan, Subir Gokarn and former secretaries Ashok Chawla and Vijay Kelkar.
Commenting on RBI Governor's letter to RBI staff, Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairman of State Bank of India (SBI) and also one of the contenders to the Governor's post, as per media reports, said, "Dr Rajan is a person of very high calibre, who has built ably on the reputation of our Central Bank and given it a very large measure of credibility."
In his letter to staff, Dr Rajan has listed what the central bank has managed to achieve in the past three years and what remains to be done, although that process has also been initiated. Stating that he will be returning to the US University, from where he is on a sabbatical, Dr Rajan listed his unfinished agenda as seeing a monetary policy panel in place to broadly guide the central bank, and a clean-up of banks' balance sheets.
Listing the achievements, since the time India's growth was high and inflation also high when he took over, the RBI governor said price control, improving foreign exchange reserves, currency stability, an eventual lowering of interest rates and extending a helping hand for reforms stood out.
Much speculation had gone into a possible second term for Dr Rajan, hailed by many as the best governor the central bank could have possibly had on its board during the difficult times India was going through, but also with some share of critics.
In fact, a petition that was floated online pushing for a second term for this IIT alumnus, had tens of thousands of netizens rooting for him, even as some critics like Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Dr Subramanian Swamy were particularly harsh towards Dr Rajan, asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to let him go.
Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy, who has been batting, in fact, for not one but two more terms for Rajan, said: "Have no doubts he will continue to add value to the country. He deserves more dignity than what he was treated with."
Dr Swamy remained unrelenting. "Raghuram Rajan was an employee of the Government of India. We do not select employees on the basis of popular vote -- and, too, of industrialists," he had said.
"...on due reflection, and after consultation with the government, I want to share with you that I will be returning to academia when my term as governor ends on 4 September 2016," Dr Rajan had said in his letter.
Nomura says, "Although the news is negative in the near term, we do not expect a lasting medium-term impact. The flexible inflation targeting framework is intact and with the move to committee-based decision making underway, we do not believe policymakers can turn a blind eye to inflation, irrespective of who fills the governor’s chair."
Fitch too feels that policies are more important than personalities, especially from a rating perspective and institutionalisation implies support for these policies beyond the governor. "The next governor seems to inherit a solid basis in this regard, providing him (or her) a good opportunity to continue to pursue relatively low consumer price inflation and strengthened bank balance sheets," the ratings agency added.