Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Patel resigned yesterday in a surprise move. Patel cited “personal reasons” but it is likely to have much to do with tensions between the government and RBI. Although it had appeared they had reached a compromise, it appears that Patel didn’t feel that the RBI came out of it well. Patel’s resignation came just ahead of a RBI board meeting on Friday, and has hit India’s markets.
The timing is not good. Patel’s resignation comes just ahead of the release of five state election results today, with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram, all having gone to the polls. Exit polls have suggested a weaker showing for PM Modi’s BJP, with Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan likely to deliver blows to the BJP. The outcome of the elections will be scrutinised for clued ahead of next year’s general elections.
Issues such as dealing with non-bank financial companies (NBFCs), implementation of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy code and even interest rate setting, have all been under scrutiny over recent months. How to deal with tightening liquidity has been a source of contention, with the government wanting the RBI to do more to ease liquidity and lending conditions. The RBI pushed back against the government’s request for a
higher payout from central bank reserves.
Although the government has not yet announced a replacement to Patel it will clearly be important that whoever it is, will be seen as independent of the government. The RBI under Patel has been seen to be overly hawkish by some and in this respect the government may be able to install someone who is more open to easing both monetary policy and lending constraints.The next steps will be important.
If the government nominates someone to replace Patel who is seen as more susceptible to political influence it could have much further and deeper negative consequences for India’s markets. If however, the government is seen to nominate someone who can maintain the independence of the RBI it will bode well for confidence in Indian assets.