Shri R K Talwar: A Beacon of Inspiration

Talwar: A Man of Character, Courage and Integrity

I have personally met and interacted with several chairmen of State Bank of India (SBI). During my research fellowship on HRM in banks, I had also occasions to meet a few chairmen of other nationalised and private sector banks.

I had my own likings and dislikings, but till date, to my mind, as many others also believe, Shri Raj Kumar Talwar was the only legendary boss in the banking sector. Though like others, I have never seen him, but his core values and ethical principles always make his presence felt in the banking circles.

Shri R K Talwar became the youngest Chairman of SBI at the age of 47 on 1st March, 1969. He was the first career banker from SBI to head the institution. Born in 1922, he joined the Imperial Bank of India, (the forerunner to SBI) in 1943 as a Probationary Assistant (Officer) soon after completing his post-graduation in Mathematics from Lahore University.

During his chairmanship, he pioneered simplification of lending procedures and launched new schemes for the benefit of smaller entrepreneurs and agriculturists. The first-ever organisational restructuring exercise was done under his supervision in 1971 that withstood the test of time for the next three decades.

His recommendations to improve the custome service in banks are still valid and followed by all banks. The current Corporate Centre of SBI, “State Bank Bhavan” in Mumbai, where I have also worked for several years, was built during his tenure.

He inspired an entire generation of bankers to raise their standards of ethics, values and conduct. He was bold enough to call a spade a spade. His fearlessness and truthfulness came from his inner strength that was conditioned by his spiritual beliefs.

During the Emergency (1975-77), Sanjay Gandhi, the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi’s younger son, was wielding extra-constitutional authority. During this time, on a restructuring proposal of a cement company borrower, SBI insisted on a change in promoters as a condition for further financial support.

The promoters tried through Sanjay Gandhi to get this condition waived. The then Union Finance Minister (FM) called Talwar to tell him that he had instructions from “the highest authority” to change the SBI’s stance, but Talwar was unmoved.

Sanjay Gandhi was not amused at his disobedience and wanted Talwar to meet him, but Talwar refused to meet him, as Sanjay Gandhi was not a constitutional authority. He believed that “honesty is the best protection,” but not Sanjay Gandhi.

Sanjay Gandhi

Sanjay Gandhi then instructed the FM to sack the SBI Chairman, but the SBI Act of 1955 had no provision for dismissal without sufficient rrasons. CBI was asked to find grounds for his dismissal, but CBI failed to do so. FM then offered a lollipop to make him the Chairman of the proposed Banking Commission, if he resigns, but Talwar politely declined this offer too.

Then the SBI Act was amended to include the enabling provision to fire the SBI Chairman without assigning any reason therefor (called Talwar amendment), but looking to his formidable reputation as a person of high integrity, the Government couldn’t muster up the courage to sack him.

Finally, a message was sent to Talwar on the 4th August, 1976 that he had been sanctioned 13 months’ leave. This leave covering his entire remaining career was not asked for. He was asked to hand over charge to the Managing Director and to proceed on leave.

He left the Bank “unwept, unhonoured and unsung”, as all were scared to be seen with him. Later in an informal chat, he had said, “There is no question of accepting or not accepting. We have to accept the Divine Will with humility. Let’s learn to enjoy all the time the Divine play.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

Talwar was the ardent devotee of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother (Mirra Alfassa). After his tenure in SBI, he retired with his wife to the spiritual community at Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry at the age of 54 to lead a simple and quiet life. He breathed his last on the 23rd April, 2002 at the age of 80.

His Karma (duty) was driven by his Dharma (sense of ethics). Shri Talwar’s spiritually motivated leadership will remain a beacon that will continue to inspire the public servants all the time.

–Kaushal Kishore

22 Comments

  1. This is an interesting post even to non-Indians and not working in the bank as it is about integrity, principles, and honesty, and those transcend the countries and professions.

    Thank you, Kaushal, for providing the thought-provoking topic.

    Joanna

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thank you for making my evening valuable. As being an aspirant of civil services, Raj Kumar Talwar’s personality inspires me to value principles.

    Liked by 3 people

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