The Metaphorical Faux Pas of the Central Banker

What happens when you cross metaphors with economic ideologies? Controversies, as the RBI Governor discovered after calling the Indian economy a one-eyed king in the land of the blind. Many an eye popped with disapproval, many an eyebrow was raised delicately, many a pert nose wrinkled in metaphorical distaste and all hell broke proverbially loose.

The poor, poor man must have wondered what he’d said that was so very wrong. He was just trying to say that a 7.5% growth rate was not a bright spot by itself; it still was short of hitting the potential growth rate in India. So compared to a lacklustre world, we may seem to be quite the economic miracle, but well, a miracle that could get more miraculous. A one-eyed king in the land of the blind. Uh-oh!

Miffed, the Commerce Minister sniffed at the choice of words. Jayant Sinha too got into the fray with gusto claiming that to confuse the shining star with the shining one-eye was so not done. The FM, who after the Budget debate on Times Now, has discovered the lethal power of silencing loud critics with statistics, merely chose to say in a clipped, dignified fashion that 7.5% growth rate is enough to get celebrating. It’s rather unfair, to get so righteous about metaphors after having used them profusely through sher-o-shaayari to take interesting potshots at the opposition during budget speeches. Remember this, folks? “Kuch to phool khilaye humne, aur kuch phool khilane hai. Mushkil yeh hai bag me ab tak, kaante kai purane hai.” Ha!

Just as the NDA was busy meta-reacting to the poor Governor, Mani Shankar Aiyar, much to the delight of the UPA, chose to give his opinion on the issue. He cleverly and deviously converted the metaphor into an allegory to claim that the PM is in fact the one-eyed king of India, causing a kind of an allergetic or allegoristic reaction all across the NDA. The UPA must have, by now, gleefully decided that henceforth, every RBI monetary policy review will be followed by a press release personally crafted by Mani Shankar Aiyar. The RBI, which on normal days issues good monetary guidance, and on special occasions, well, issues good monetary guidance for variety, is really not used to such excitement and adrenalin. Recoiling in complete horror, it is said to be currently debating whether the Indian economy won’t be better off with only one review in every 8 years, rather than 8 reviews in every 1 year.

In the meanwhile, there was a complete kahaani mein twist as P. Chidambaram, whilst reacting to the nation’s demands about Ishrat Jahaan, chose to declare full and final support to the RBI Governor. Does the excitement never end? The Commerce Minister dished back her criticism, no holds barred. State of the economy, Indian and global, notwithstanding, this has now become a full fledged fight between the Commerce Minister and P. Chidambaram, whereas the RBI Governor, I’m sure, has decided to quit giving speeches for a while and just stick to good old monetary guidance.

Metaphorically speaking, the entire controversy is also perhaps indicative of the differences in the delivery mechanisms of the fiscal and monetary policies. The fiscal policy is passed as an Act of the Parliament; its tone does not lend itself to interpretation, its clauses have to be spelled out in black and white. The monetary policy in the Indian context, has always treaded that fine line between growth and inflation; in that sense, it has been more interpretative, more guidance oriented. It’s kind of a déjà vu, that as inflation targeting pushes monetary policy into a more concrete format, the RBI Governor faces ire for having been metaphorical in stating the stance of the Indian economy vis-a-vis the globe.

It was Alan Greenspan, a Central Banker from another time and another zone who had famously remarked, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” The RBI Governor may not have been in concurrence of the expansionary monetary policy that Greenspan unleashed on the US prior to the crisis, but even he will not be able to find a fault line in this particular statement by Greenspan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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