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India’s ‘rock star’ central banker quits, and his fans are devastated

Reserve Bank of India head Raghuram Rajan at a news conference in Mumbai on June 7. He announced Saturday that he is resigning. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)
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NEW DELHI — When India’s central banker announced that he will be returning to teach in Chicago this September, many of his fans, including members of the Indian intelligentsia, were devastated.

The 53-year-old, immensely popular governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan is a former finance professor at the University of Chicago. He is widely seen as an economic reformer who has ably guided the nation’s economy since 2013, and his image has helped India shore up the confidence of investors abroad, as well as earning him many fawning admirers here.

He has been called India’s rock-star banker, even compared to James Bond. But his relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government have been choppy. Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman criticized him in April for his choice of words when he described the Indian economy as “the one-eyed man being king in the land of the blind.”

A controversial member of Modi’s party, the lawmaker Subramanian Swamy said Rajan was “mentally not fully Indian” and accused him of harming the economy. He urged Modi to fire him, after which Rajan’s exit was the subject of much speculation here.

In a statement Saturday, Rajan said that he took over as the central banker at a time when the Indian currency was plunging, inflation was soaring and growth was weak. “Today we are the fastest growing large economy in the world,” he wrote.

But, he said, “I am an academic and I have always made it clear that my ultimate home is in the realm of ideas.”

“Rajan’s exit saddens India Inc,” said a headline in the Hindustan Times newspaper on Sunday. “Chief banker loses interest,” said the Times of India.

Here is how many on Twitter reacted.

Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of India’s opposition Congress party tweeted with a note of sarcasm.