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No beating about the bush.
“Do you know that a bank ‘branch’ is not defined anywhere?” the late Dr KC Chakrabarty, one day quizzed us, accompanied by his customary loud laughter. “And we are issuing guidelines that branches should do this and that. But what is a branch?” This conversation was recalled by Debashis Basu, founder trustee of Moneylife Foundation, to illustrate how independent-minded and thought-provoking Dr Chakrabarty was, at an online memorial meet for honoring and remembering the life of Dr KC Chakrabarty (1952-2021), former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and trustee of Moneylife Foundation.
We do not know of anyone who liked to go deep into definitions and first principles, as Dr Chakrabarty did. It is only through watertight definitions and sound principles that we can be consistent and fair in our actions, he used to say. But we do not, and the result is chaos: “We can have principles-based regulation or we can have rules-based regulation. In India we have neither. We perhaps have people-based regulation.”
With remarkable clarity of thought, he used to say “democracy is not the same as civilization,” when we pointed out to him how citizens are often pulverised by the injustice.
“We are a democracy, are we are civilised?” he used to ask provocatively.
“That’s the reason why there is so much of wrongdoing in the society, especially against the poor, which goes unpunished.”
Organised by Moneylife Foundation, the meeting was attended by several senior central bankers, former bank chairmen and Dr Chakrabarty’s close friends and colleagues.
TS Krishnamurthy, former chief election commissioner and Trustee of Moneylife Foundation said, “It is indeed sad that Dr Chakrabarty had an untimely demise. What impressed me most when I first came to know him, was his bluntness and independence of his views. He never compromised on taking a stand on any particular issue. Even as the deputy governor he had taken open and sometimes controversial stands on issues. His sincerity, loyalty and contribution to public good can never be doubted.”
While Dr Chakrabarty has always been blunt and had spoken his mind at every organization that he worked in, every one of his friends and colleagues narrated stories about the empathy and generosity that was hidden by the tough exterior that he presented.
V Santhanaraman, former executive director at Bank of Baroda, put it well when he said, Dr Chakrabarty was like a jackfruit, tough and prickly on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside.
SS Mundra, who followed Dr Chakrabarty's footsteps both as CMD of Bank of Baroda and later as deputy governor RBI, said, “…because we are all from Bank of Baroda family, which was the alma mater of Dr Chakrabarty, it feels like a deeper loss. He was a mentor and guide for me in the early days”.
"Even his association began with a 'confrontation of sorts on policy matters', but, as he recalled, only later did I realise that this was his ‘style’. He was a contrarian by nature and he invited a confrontation as a means of discourse. I was worried that this confrontation would only end my career, but to my surprise it was through Dr Chakrabarty’s recommendation that I was promoted through the ranks. Thereafter, it was perhaps providential that I followed in his path to the RBI,” Mr Mundra says.
This contrarian nature of Dr Chakrabarty was always evident in the several interactions that Moneylife Foundation had with him before he accepted to join as a trustee.
As Moneylife Foundation's founder trustee Sucheta Dalal says, “He would always draw an argument out of us on a particular issue we were discussing, only to later burst out laughing. It was just his way to have a healthy debate on any issue.”
Dr Anil Khandelwal, former chairman and Managing Director of Bank of Baroda called Dr Chakrabarty a ‘rebel talent’ and recalled how “he had to disagree with you on the first occasion, and he stuck to his logic, never appearing to be in a popularity contest and he was sort of a heretic.But the most important thing is that he could speak on both sides of an argument.”
Despite this, he had a brilliant career because of his domain knowledge and the fact that he was 'warm and approachable' at the personal level, said Dr Khandelwal, adding, we need a ‘rebel talent’ like him today not a ‘pliable talent’.
Supreme Court's former judge Gyan Sudha Misra, recalled how she noted Dr Chakrabarty's frank and often contrarian views on the board of a company and often called him to help understand corporate issues, which she was unfamiliar with.
RBI's former principal chief general manager Jaganmohan Rao says, “Dr Chakrabarty was a brilliant banker who didn't suffer fools gladly. But, once you understood his way of working, you tended to greatly respect his tenacity and saw the softer empathetic side of him…. he was a very good friend of mine and will be sorely missed.”
Dr Anupam Saraph, former trustee of Moneylife Foundation recalled Dr Chakrabarty’s logical reasoning, his compelling arguments and his willingness to take contrarian views and despite all of this being extremely good cheer.
Among those who shared their memories of Dr Chakrabarty were D Sarkar, former CMD of Union Bank of India, Kaza Sudhakar, former Principal General Manager at RBI, U Paliwal, former Executive Director at RBI, Mr Santhanaraman, advocate Jamshed Mistry, Walter Viera, trustee of Moneylife Foundation, Hemindra Hazari, well-known banking analyst and other colleagues and close friends of Dr Chakrabarty and Moneylife Foundation members.
A recorded video of this memorial meeting can be viewed below: