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IIM-Vizag Director recollects his association with former RBI Governor, ASCI Chairman Narasimham


VISAKHAPATNAM: I belong to the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) family. This is how I fondly remember Shri Maidavolu Narasimham, who breathed his last on April 20, after a long and distinguished career in the government and multilateral agencies, and later as Principal, Vice Chairman, Chairman and Emeritus Chairman of ASCI, leaving an indelible impression and unforgettable impact.

Narasimham is no stranger to those whose interests lay in the economy. He authored the oft-quoted and religiously practiced banking sector reforms, seminal in many respects, popular as Narasimham Committee Reforms I&II.

I joined ASCI as a Full Professor in 2002 from Bank of India, and hence knew well about the contribution of Narasimham as former RBI Governor and Finance Secretary. Later, I had many opportunities (privileges, shall I say) of closely interacting with him often, as a Dean. He was a versatile genius. There wasn’t a subject on which he could not speak in depth and chances are, those from the domains knew less than him. He could speak about defence policy with the same facility as on fiscal or monetary policy. He would often leave the late K V Krishna Rao (former Army Chief) and the lateH Latif (former Air Chief) who were Members on the Court, in awe of his knowledge of the intricate details of equipment design and functioning. Navy was, particularly his passion. He would quip, the Director General is the Captain of the ship. I am the Admiral of the fleet.

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Narasimham was an erudite scholar. A slice of it must have come from inheritance since he was the grandson of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. His mornings in ASCI, when in active service or otherwise, would be spent in reading, from financial matters to foreign affairs, international and national. When he spoke, always crisp and extempore, brilliance radiated. He used to say that the surgeon who operated on his brain commented, he had not seen one as closely-circuited and well-wired as that. The surgeon was spot on.

Deans (which I was, multiple times, over multiple years) were invitees to the Court meetings at ASCI, and I was witness that he was a real “simha” as Chairman of the Court. When he spoke, no one did. In fact, he left no scope. Members would just nod in agreement. The court meetings would begin at 1130 sharp. They had to end, come hell or high water, at 1300 hrs for a multi-course lunch that ASCI is famous for. Aperitifs preceded lunch. Narasimham would regale the audience with his ready wit and humour, in his clipped Cambridge English.

The late Dr Abid Hussain (a Member on the Court) would say, “I would end my letters to Narasimham with ‘Love to Shanthi’ (his wife) and Narasimham would read out to her the entire letter except that last phrase”. And they would all break into a guffaw. Such was the bonhomiei Narasimham built in the Court.

Narasimham was an avid cricketer and a keen follower of the game. He was said to have played for his alma mater, Cambridge. He would often express his displeasure when our side got bowled out cheaply and share with us on how the batting order should have been shuffled. Or why a particular bowler should have been chosen, rather than someone else. And would give very convincing reasons, reeling out history and statistics and contextualizing them to the pitch conditions, weather, the form and fitness of the opposite team and a dozen other variables. He was more precise than Structural Equation Modelling. There was simply no match to his cognitive capacities.

From what he used to share, Narasimham was the blue-eyed boy of Mrs Indira Gandhi. He recalled once, “After my retirement, I met Mrs Gandhi to inform her about my moving to ASCI. She asked, “how come the file did not go through me”. I said, it won’t because ASCI is not an institution on which any Ministry has any administrative control. She remarked, nor can anyone have on you… but surely you are not leaving.” When he actually did, it is said that she came up to his car to see him off.

As the Program Director, I led at ASCI, scores of training programs for the officers of the Bangladesh Civil Service and would invite Narasimham for the valedictory. He would hold them spellbound with his very deep knowledge and ring-side view of their country’s economy, as the single-man commissioned by Mrs Gandhi to address the monetary issues and currency management, as soon as their country attained independence. He would often narrate how the currency had to be “rubber-stamped” to make it new legal tender and how they went about addressing the issue of reserves, external payment commitments etc. He has written about it all in his books. It’s no brainer that my programs used to end with a flourish. Narasimham was generous and benevolent.

He led the life of a royal, often bestowing liberal benefits on his ‘subjects’. He was particularly disposed towards the workmen. He treated them with paternal indulgence. He contributed significantly to their betterment by introducing various welfare schemes. Educational fee reimbursement to their wards, free distribution of books, free and unlimited healthcare facilities for the employees and their dependents, rewards for the high-performing students, to name just a few. Little surprise, he was held in the highest esteem and was revered as a living God by the workmen. He chaired (as the Chairman of the Court) the interview committee for my selection at ASCI. His sharp eye caught the minute detail in my CV tucked away in a corner that I learnt German. At the end, he suddenly sprang an “auf wiedersehen” (till we meet again) on me. I collected myself, recollected my German, grinned and said “danke schoen” (thank you). I knew I was in. Shri Narasimham bestrode the College like a colossus. The single phrase that summarizes his life and times is “Na Bhootho, Na Bhavishyathi.”

[Professor M Chandrasekhar, Director, Indian Institute of Management Visakhapatnam (On lien from ASCI)]





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