Derived from the Sanskrit term ‘bhakti‘ which in its modern sense may denote any tradition of Hindu devotionalism, the media uses the word ‘bhakt’ as a broad pejorative to describe people (mainly) on social media who subscribe to right wing ideology in India and support Prime Minister Narendra Modi/RSS.

The expression has gained rapid popularity since the NDA government came to power. The liberal media ridicules Modi’s backers as faithful devotees who have rendered total submission at their god’s feet and have the habit of leaving their brains in the refrigerator while evaluating anything that the Prime Minister does or says.

RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. ReutersRBI governor Raghuram Rajan. Reuters

RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. Reuters

Inherent in the criticism is the sound belief that Modi, a politician and an administrator who holds India’s highest office (never mind the President) should be assessed objectively for the quality of his work and the competence that he brings to the table. Any amount of fanboyism, this view holds, is damaging in the long run for Indian democracy. Few can disagree.

I’m not qualified enough to appraise the work that Raghuram Rajan has done so far for Indian economy. Far more competent people have taken up the task as the RBI governor completes his first term in September. And let me admit I am also one of those who would like to see Dr Rajan get a second term for a purely irrational reason. I like the man. I think he is smart.

But what makes me uncomfortable is the unquestioned belief liberal media has placed on Rajan and the sheepheaded stubbornness with which any counter-view is being defended almost as if he is the only man with an intellectual bandwidth to rescue India’s economy from a morass.

Excuse me?

Competent and accomplished as Dr Rajan surely is, it is preposterous to think that there is a paucity of equally qualified and capable candidates for the RBI top job.

Mint, quoting brokerage firm Ambit Capital, has recently speculated that four candidates are in fray should Rajan deny a second term or if the government disagrees to extend it. They are Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairman of State Bank of India; finance secretary Shaktikanta Das; UK Sinha, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI); and Urijit Patel, deputy governor of the central bank.

Even though the government or Rajan himself have given no indication of which way the wind is blowing — notwithstanding speculative reports about the banker’s unwillingness to continue or Modi’s willingness to persuade him to stay — it shouldn’t stop us from having a discussion over whether the names that are being mentioned (or anyone else) have the ability to take forward the twin jobs that Rajan has been most praised for: curbing inflation and cleaning up India’s debt-ridden banks.

The Prime Minister is wrong when he says that “I don’t think this administrative subject (Rajan’s reappointment) should be an issue of interest to the media.” A post that is considered next only to that of the Union finance minister in terms of importance and impact over our economic well-being merits a well-rounded argument.

Neither can one agree with august columnist PB Mehta who says in his Indian Express column that there has been an “unseemly controversy around Rajan’s appointment” and seems to suggest that this is an exclusive phenomenon.

It should be stressed here that Subramanian Swamy’s sniping at Rajan is uncalled for and cannot be supported but India is hardly the only place in the world where appointment of the top central banker is the subject of a hot debate and “unseemly controversy”.

We all recall what happened in 2013 when a vicious, rancorous debate broke out between backers of Janet Yellen and Larry Summers over who should succeed Ben Bernanke for the US Federal Reserve’s top job. Economist had pointed out during the run up to the appointment that Yellen, an esteemed economist and vice-chairman to then Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, was dismissed as lacking “gravitas” in what could easily be mistaken for thinly veiled sexism while the brilliant and polarising Larry Summers, was caricatured as a nightmare to work with and a handmaiden to Wall Street.

Yellen eventually pipped Summers to the post but the embers of the debate are still alive.

The point is that we cannot wish away debates in democracy. In fact, we should welcome it. What we should guard against instead are fawning endorsements in media of the kind that we have been witnessing of late.

What should be debated with facts, figures and empirical data has suddenly overwhelmed our popular culture with columnists backing Rajan for his good looks, ability to put the “sex” in sensex and news reports comparing him to India’s James Bond who would single-handedly rescue our economy from evil machinations of the world. Why, even a brand that sells butter has weighed in on the debate, giving it’s ringing endorsement to Rajan.

That’s all that we have needed. Who’s the bhakt here?


Debate over Rajan’s reappointment: Why is the media behaving like a bhakt?