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INSPIRING PUBLIC POLICY
- Professor A.K. Dasgupta

A.K. Dasgupta or AKDG (as some of us referred to him, somewhat inelegantly but affectionately) was widely admired as a scholar and teacher, and for his active engagement in issues of public policy. He also had an abiding interest in economic theory and enjoyed teaching it. He lived through an era of deep intellectual churning in economics and was actively involved in the ongoing debates. But perhaps his greatest and lasting impact was as a teacher.

He started his career in Dacca University and went on to teach at Cuttack and Benares. Even when he moved to research institutions, he remained a teacher in spirit. His understanding of various schools of theory, and the lucidity with which he could explicate them was widely admired. He came to be regarded as one of the most influential teachers of economics in the country of his time.

While his primary interest was in theory, he was also interested in developmental and policy issues. He served on several official committees, within and outside the country, set up to study and advise on these issues. But for the most part he chose to write on them in journals and public fora. He wrote extensively in Economic Weekly, later Economic and Political Weekly, and in the Indian Journal of Economics. His writings reflect a deep concern for dispassionate analysis of planning and development issues, and the importance of theoretical rigour in such analyses.

That he insisted on eschewing ideology from analysis does not mean that he was ideologically neutral. He was conscious that economic theory can at best mediate and clarify but cannot settle the ethical and social implications of choosing between alternative development strategies and economic policies. His writings and views clearly suggest that he was a liberal with considerable sympathy for a socialistic vision.

I first came to know him in the mid-Fifties when I joined the National Council of Applied Economic Research. I was more interested in developmental problems with a strong predilection towards empirical study of specific sectors and regions. But this did not bother AKDG in the least. He was then the deputy director general of the council. But that designation did not mean much to him or to his young colleagues.

Professor Dasgupta was readily accessible, easy to talk to and willing to discuss a wide range of topics. He had a way of raising issues, explaining their significance in relation to overall development and commenting on the ways in which economists approach them which was invariably instructive and stimulating. He gave liberally of his time and attention to listen to our queries, clarify doubts and offer suggestions. Our one-to-one interactions and occasional group discussions (which sometimes spilled over to his home after office and on holidays) usually forayed into wider developmental problems and the role of economic analysis in dealing with them.

An endearing quality of AKDG was the active interest he took in the work of young colleagues and provided a constant source of encouragement and support both at the professional and the personal levels. I cherish memories of the warmth and affection that both AKDG and Mrs Dasgupta gave my wife, as well as my daughters and me.

Nearly 30 years ago, I was privileged to contribute to the Festschrift edited by Ashok Mitra and published on the occasion of AKDG’s 70th birthday, Economic Theory and Planning. How wide the respect and affection he commanded among fellow economists is evident from the list of contributors to that volume. I am happy to be called upon to join in commemorating his centenary.

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