Advice and dissent – My years in Public Service – YV Reddy

Divakar Kaza

I normally stay away from books written by Bureaucrats and other government functionaries. They are so full of themselves, hide more than what they convey due to the covenants of their government service/secrecy guidelines and more often than not – they are self indulgent in idolatries on their life in public service.

However, I was drawn to this book for multiple reasons. Here is the story of a fellow citizen from the Telugu speaking states, a man who displayed plenty of conviction and courage during his stint as the governor and also witty to boot – based on the little that gets written about RBI governors and what we see on TV. Here was a man who shepherded India’s economy and insulated it from the turbulent financial crisis that gripped the world. Something told me that notwithstanding my views on books by bureaucrats, I should read his autobiography and must say that I was glad that I read it.

The celebrated life of our past RBI Governor – from his early childhood in AP to his last position as the Chairman of the Finance commission – is an eye opener. On how to channel your energies in life towards higher goals and once you are in a position to influence issues in the country – how to do a selfless job with pluck and principle and then gracefully fade into the sun-set after an innings well played and a life well lived.

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There are actually two books in one. One is the autobiography of a man of middle class means who worked his way to the top and second is a lot of discourse of monetary policy, economic and related issues in overseeing the banking system in the country and providing counsel to the government in matters of financial and monetary regulation and policy.

On his personal life, he writes with honesty and candour. And his trademark humour slips in elegantly even when he is writing about serious issues. Here is a man who does not call a spade a spade is capable of calling it a bloody shovel if required. Not the usual stories of government servants taking up any position in the service of the country – and claiming that they sacrificed their family and personal life – he is forthright when he writes about what he wants in terms of postings to widen his horizon and broad base his experience and how he seeks it in a straightforward manner, writes as much about his failures as his successes. Rare to see this kind of frankness in government servants. His being a complete family man also comes across well as he tries to navigate his professional life with all the changes and relocations that he gets and balance it with the needs of his family and immediate kith and kin.

His reminiscences as the Governor of RBI makes for interesting reading. Here is an institution owned by the government, managing the affairs of the banking system which is mostly government owned – and reporting into the government – and yet trying to be independent and asserting itself. These issues are covered in 4-5 chapters and they make for compelling reading.

The chapter on his equation with P Chidambaram is fascinating. On how he has to support the government in its yo-yo years of growth and yet keep the system clean the way RBI fights on OCBs and has its way and how it gives in to the political compulsions of the government of the day and gives up on PNs is like a primer on how to handle differences with the political system, disagree when required without being disagreeable.

Dr Reddy was the last of the economist-bureaucrat Governors who have helmed RBI. Having worked his way up thru the IAS he understood India at the grass-root levels and what works for the common-man and he seems to have put it to good use while he was the Governor by looking at how policy decisions will ultimately pan out at the ground level impacting the common layman.

At another level, this is a book about dreams and opportunity and what is possible in a country like India. It doesn’t matter if you are born in the back of the beyond of India, studied in a vernacular medium and did not have the old boy connections. With hard-work, determination and focus you can achieve all your dreams and as you work your way up, courage, honesty and integrity of purpose will ensure that you end your career at such a high. This part I am not sure if the author intended it to come across that way – but it is inspirational and disproves that you need elitist education and ultra-snob schools to schmooze your way to success.

For readers not familiar with banking and economic issues –read the chapters on these subjects slowly it will sink in eventually and you will understand the issues he is writing about. I think he wrote the book with the general lay-reader in mind and not serious students of economics and finance.

Eminently readable book would recommend it to all to know the story of a simple son of the soil and the stellar role he played in guiding our economy when half the world imploded.

(Divakar Kaza is a retired Corporate Executive. He is a Hyderabadi now settled in Bangalore).

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