Remembering Sunil Jain, the editor on whom labels didn’t stick

In his trademark fashion, Sunil Jain was all the time first off the blocks. Weeks earlier than the finances, typically months, he would request a finances day op-ed for The Monetary Specific. This yr was no totally different. Sadly, I wasn’t capable of honour his request this time due to work commitments on finances day. So once I wrote about the finances in one other newspaper every week later, he shot again in his characteristically witty method: “Very good piece… pity it was in the improper newspaper”. He was, in fact, solely joking, signing off with a naughty smile. I replied that the subsequent piece would positively be for him, which he enthusiastically welcomed. 4 months later, it’s unfathomable to suppose that piece wouldn’t be for Sunil, however about him. Such is the incomprehensible and surreal actuality that has characterised our existence for the final 15 months.

I knew Sunil for a decade, and that too professionally — a shorter and totally different relationship than his shut buddies and acquaintances — however, regardless of that, a 900-word op-ed seems insufficient to do justice to his distinctive and quintessential traits: A exceptional astuteness about economics and coverage, a burning ardour about attending to the backside of issues, and an unflinching want to say what he felt was proper for the nation, inevitably laced with an unusual directness. Anybody who knew Sunil would have guessed that his mental curiosity and zeal could be in overdrive when confronted with an existential disaster reminiscent of Covid. True to type, Sunil was in his aspect over the final yr, churning out incisive op-ed after op-ed, on each essential subject of the day.

His astuteness was evident in his early recognition {that a} sturdy fiscal response was crucial not simply to carry the financial system collectively throughout the disaster, however to safeguard macroeconomic stability thereafter. That India’s debt dynamics depended extra on medium time period progress than they did on the actual tempo of fiscal normalisation. That India wanted to develop its manner out of this disaster and authorities spending was key to minimise the scarring. That, counter intuitively, fiscal conservatism could possibly be counterproductive to fiscal sustainability. And so he wrote op-ed after op-ed making these linkages and arguing for a powerful fiscal response from early on in the disaster. The most recent GDP print which confirmed that authorities spending was key to propping up progress in the January-March quarter would have vindicated his writings and efforts.

The astuteness was additionally on show when — opposite to the widespread notion that India’s intercontinental measurement ought to reflexively argue for the primacy of home demand — he recognised the criticality of exports. That exports had been the lynchpin of India’s progress burst in the first decade of this millennium. That no rising market had grown with out sturdy export progress. That there was a symbiotic relationship between imports and exports, such that streamlining the former was the key to success with the latter. True to type, he prolifically turned out piece after piece fervently arguing for the urgency of stoking export progress and situating this crucial amidst the broader constituents of GDP: C+I+G+X-M. After I joked that his financial acuity was going to place skilled economists out of labor, he shot again with attribute nonchalance and humility: “I’m only a good notice taker!”

His ardour got here via in nearly all the pieces he wrote and was significantly on show on the vaccination coverage in current months. One in all his final columns entitled, “That little factor referred to as economics”, successfully turned a “Microeconomics 101” class, augmented with provide and demand curves and shaded triangles depicting deadweight losses. One may nearly envision professor Jain animatedly strolling round a classroom pleading along with his viewers to see the gentle. Agree or disagree with Sunil, he left all the pieces on the area.

His ardour additionally got here via when he often met overseas buyers — who had been eager to elicit his ideas on the financial system — in particular person in New Delhi, in the pre-Covid days. Inevitably, a one-hour lunch spilled over into twice the agreed time as a result of a passionate Sunil was reeling off details and figures that had his listeners captivated. In fact, no such assembly ended with out Sunil espousing a powerful view on the matter!

Finally, his want to embrace what’s finest for the nation was mirrored in his non-ideological method to economics. His writings are testimony that he couldn’t be lazily bucketed right into a liberal or conservative stereotype. He was equally comfy calling for elevated authorities spending and earnings help to stop scarring of households and SMEs, as he was for sounding a clarion name for privatisation and extra market-friendly reforms.

This comes via starkly in his final pre-budget column, “5 issues to evaluate the finances by”, whereby he batted for “expenditure progress to be excessive, plenty of privatisation, no new cesses, massive infra-push and 1991-style sweeping reform”. This simply confirms Sunil wasn’t constrained by tying his mast to anyone financial philosophy. As an alternative, all the time knowledgeable by information, he passionately advocated what he thought was finest for the nation at that cut-off date.

For the readers of Sunil’s much-followed “Rational Expectations” column, there may be nothing rational nor anticipated about his premature departure. Whether or not you agreed along with his views or not — and there was typically loads to disagree with — Sunil’s distinctive mixture of exceptional astuteness, ardour and frankness is irreplaceable. All that the remainder of us can now do is proceed championing the many worthy causes that he so passionately espoused.

The author is chief India economist, J.P. Morgan. Views are private

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