No regrets, only looking back

No regrets, only looking back

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Caption:  Book Review: Non-fiction/No Regrets by D N Ghosh, Rupa Publications, 375pp, Rs 695 (Hardback)
No Regrets by D N Ghosh, Rupa Publications, 375pp, Rs 695 (Hardback, Non-fiction)

For those who are not aware: D N Ghosh has been an extraordinaire bureaucrat, banker, professor and corporate leader. Moreover, he is a known authority in banking and financial history, and accordingly his autobiography offers to his readers, a vast array of literature on the said topic besides the narrator’s reminiscences.

Not in usual stodgy bureaucratic fashion of writings, Ghosh presents interesting anecdotes from his time as Secretary to the Government of India (GoI) and Chairman, State Bank of India (SBI). A remarkable policy maker and an administrator, he was closely associated with the evolution of banking in India for over three decades.

Even after his retirement from SBI in 1989, Ghosh held various positions in corporate, research and academia. Noticeably, since 1991, he has been Managing Trustee of the Sameeksha Trust, the publishers of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW).

In his book “No Regrets”, D N Ghosh brings back the memories of the dramatic build-up to the overnight nationalization of fourteen banks in a single legislative sweep by Indira Gandhi in 1969. Here he offers an eyewitness account of undoubtedly the most important event in India’s banking history post-Independence. However, he doesn’t go far to unleash something about the enabling ordinance and the matters of fair compensation for the dispossessed bank owners. These issues stay less known to the readers even after reading this book, otherwise truly informative.

He helmed the SBI as its Chairman at the phase when the Indian economy was passing through the course of epoch-making changes. The inherent changes were in order to open the closed gates of economy, popularly known as economic reforms. For long, keeping ‘status quo’ was seen as a ‘virtue’ – and anything that goes in any-direction was kept on way.

But the realisation for a paradigm shift was reckoned in eighties, and in 1991, finally then the Finance Minister aptly recited Victor Hugo’s monumental quote “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come”. That idea was to rationalise the state’s hold over the economy and allow it flourish under a competitive eco-system that could trickle down to the last person of society.

Playing his own part, Ghosh anticipated the future and brought a radical change in the banking space by negating the trend where it was politically set correct to see ‘profit’ as a ‘dirty word’ tag – rather he made it possible to place it at the core of the SBI’s operating strategy. Carrying further the spirit of economic reforms, he took SBI into the capital markets, established its credit standing globally, launched India’s first mutual fund and, crucially, convinced the trade unions for accepting full computerization of banking operation.

“No Regrets” tells the story of Indian banking in transition – and the banks’ coping with the odds, which came under the new system at place. With the economic reforms, the functioning and shape of banking underwent a radical shift, brought in at unprecedented level, the technical efficiency, financial inclusion and large economy of scale. There can’t be multiple views on this.

Ghosh shares the untold stories of a glorious career spanning over six decades and his tryst with some epochal events whose resonances continue to create surface in the corridors of bureaucracy, banking and business to this day. An autobiography like this fosters the culture of looking back by the persons of eminence from different fields. And as certainly, the banking is a major business – it needs to have many such accounts by the policy makers, who have shaped the banking policies in past.

Notwithstanding the lethal global hiccups, the banking in India has been on upward spiral. Albeit, it is also true that it is still running behind its true potential to grow – and the financial sector at large now needs major policy boost-up. Meanwhile, Ghosh’s biography should generate interest to the enthusiasts of financial history, and also to the movers and shakers of financial sectors.