Amid nationwide outrage over the murder of an outspoken journalist, former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan today said India cannot afford to become an intolerant society as tolerance is "extremely important" for its economic growth.
Rajan, who exited Reserve Bank of India a year ago, had courted controversy in 2015 lecture where he talked about growing intolerance in the country, deviating from his usual focus on monetary policy issues.
In an interview to PTI, he justified his comments saying public figures have a responsibility to "sometimes speak up on what is good for the country. I just think it had to be said".
That lecture was followed by the incident of beating to death of a Muslim man suspected of having eaten beef with various critics warning that protection of individual rights was giving way to a strident majoritarianism.
The murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh is unfortunate, Rajan said.
Lankesh, an outspoken critic of Hindutva politics, was shot dead in Bengaluru on Tuesday.
"Lady journalist killing has become an issue because people are concluding that it was because of what she was writing. I think it's early days to conclude anything. I think we should let the investigation happen and until we have more information it would be premature to jump to any kind of conclusion," he said.
He further said that the recent Supreme Court ruling privacy as fundamental right has expanded the realm of tolerance for certain kinds of behaviour.
Rajan went on to justify his October 31, 2015 lecture to students of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi saying it was "actually about tolerance".
"It was about India's tradition of tolerance, the strength of India... It was emphasising India's strength as opposed to saying this is a problem and I feel very proud of that speech which was given to young people," he said.
Tolerance, Rajan said, was "extremely important for our economic growth, especially given the kind of service/innovative economy we were likely to want to be, that it was to my mind a strength we had and that we should be very careful not to lose it."
Rajan, the only central bank governor in two decades who did not get a second term, said India does not move linearly and there are reasons for certain amounts of hope in the Supreme Court judgement on privacy which expanded the realm of tolerance for certain kinds of behaviour.
He said: "I think that is a very important judgement and an indication that there are many ways, many directions in which we are moving as a country.
"That said I would say I would repeat what I said in IIT Delhi speech that tolerance has always been our strength and as a diverse society which so many religion, so many languages, so many modes of behaviour, that we cannot afford to become an intolerant society."
Becoming intolerant would strike at the very soul of India, he said. "That said there are lot of reasons for dynamism and hope in this country."
Rajan said public figures occupying high places have responsibility to speak on what is good for the country. "And I think if you look at the speech and tell me there is any line in there that as a sensible Indian you disagree with," he said.
Rajan said he did not get any "push back" from the government for his 2015 speech and, in fact, a minister had a week later told him that this was exactly what he had been saying.