Well-known chartered accountant and RSS-affiliated columnist Swaminathan Gurumuthy was , on 7 August, appointed as part-time, non-official director on the Central Board of the RBI for a period of four years by the Central government. Within days, he shot back to limelight for his controversial comment on the Kerala floods.
While help for the deluge-hit victims poured in from all across the country, Gurumurthy faced flak for writing on Twitter about how the Supreme Court’s decision to allow entry of women in the Sabarimala temple has links with the floods because there could be a possibility that Lord Ayyappa might have been angered by the judgement.
Till sometime back, he had publicly berated the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and its office holders, including the central bank’s former governor Raghuram Rajan, for "destroying Indian business".
An avid social media user, Gurumurthy, who is also the editor of Tamil magazine Thuglak, was quick to share his thoughts about his appointment on Twitter, saying this is his first directorship ever stemming from "pressure" to do something in public interest.
But many others on social media did not receive the news of his appointment with much praise, as they questioned his credentials and shed light on the controversies he has courted in the past, including peddling hoaxes. As his appointment to India's central bank board raises eyebrows, let us take a closer look at who exactly the 69-year-old is, what has been his tryst with controversies and what does his appointment to the RBI board imply?
Advocating Swadeshi Economics & Helping the PM
The Tamil Nadu-born Swaminathan Gurumurthy is most well-known as the co-convenor of the RSS-affiliated Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, through which he has advocated his vision of swadeshi (India-centric) economics and self-reliance, while criticising the adoption of “global thought”.
His affinity to the current regime can be gleaned from his close involvement in shaping its various economic policies. In fact, he is said to belong to a coterie of close advisors to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It is said that Gurumurthy was one of the people who suggested the dismantling of the Planning Commission and replacing it with the NITI Aayog having a “Bharatiya approach to development”. The MUDRA (Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency) scheme, with its emphasis on small and micro enterprises, is also believed to be his brainchild.
He is perhaps best known for his support for demonetisation, which he described which he described as “fundamental corrective to the economy much like liberalisation of the 1990s” just a day after it was announced.
But interestingly, the chartered accountant did not speak glowingly about the implementation of demonetisation a year after it was introduced. In September 2017, he reportedly said that a “communication error between the Finance Ministry and a confidential cell” facilitated black money holders to escape the “demonetisation dragnet”. Even for other economic policies, including GST, Gurumurthy was articulate enough to express his reservations.
In the business world, Gurumurthy's name has been doing the rounds for years. His affinity to The Indian Express proprietor Ram Nath Goenka has been well known, but so has been his criticism of the Dhirubhai Ambani-led Reliance group of companies in a number of articles he wrote in 1986 with Arun Shourie.
No Banking Experience, And a Tryst With Hoaxes
Having been a chartered accountant with no banking experience, S Gurumurthy’s appointment to the RBI board has come as a surprise to many.
While a few on social media have expressed hope that his appointment would usher in positive changes, others have emphasised on past controversies to question his credibility.
Apart from his stance on demonetisation, social media users have brought into focus Gurumurthy’s infamous tryst with hoaxes.
Gurumurthy was apparently taken in by the ‘Rs 2,000 note having a GPS chip’ hoax, shared a misleading and edited video of Rahul Gandhi, and even thought that “aliens were in India 5,000 years ago”.
What Does His Appointment Mean?
Until now, the RSS has restricted its involvement largely to the political and social spheres ever since the BJP came to power in 2014.
But with the appointment of a person known for his close association to the RSS via the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, the ideological parent of the BJP is now also seen to be extending its involvement to the economic sphere.
Ironically, Gurumurthy was the one who has criticised the RBI and its office-holders for their attempts to ‘destroy’ Indian business and their lack of capacity to think for India.
As he assumes a new role at the central bank, one can expect him to try and upend its so-called 'global outlook' and mould the RBI’s policies to something that would suit his ‘swadeshi-friendly’ vision.
But notably, considering his influence in the RSS, there had been speculation that he would get a role bigger than that of a part-time, non-official director on the RBI board.
(This story has been updated)