Nirmal Kumar Chandra, former professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIM Calcutta) passed away on 19 March 2014 after a brief illness. A heterodox economist and socialist thinker, he was first and foremost a legendary teacher who inspired his students to take the “road less well travelled”. A prolific contributor to the pages of the EPW he also belonged to a generation of heterodox scholars who encouraged students and researchers to publish in Indian journals rather than those in the west which were hegemonised by liberal and then neo-liberal academia.
Of the large number of students he taught at IIM Calcutta, many, influenced by his unorthodox arguments about the problems plaguing Indian economy and society, chose to pursue higher studies in economics. This includes two editors of this journal and dozens of others who gave up corporate careers to pursue doctoral studies in economics, many under his guidance, while others studied at universities in India and abroad. Influenced by his research there were also those who came to IIM Calcutta to specifically work under his supervision.
“Nirmal da” (Chandra hereafter), as he was fondly called by his numerous students and younger colleagues, joined IIM Calcutta in 1966 and in a way never left. Even after his retirement, he had a small room where he would beaver away on his computer, producing another two dozen papers, most of them published in the pages of EPW.
Descended from a rich North Calcutta family with land and property littered over its business districts, Chandra often mischievously described his background as “semi-feudal” and “comprador”. He left for the United Kingdom (UK) immediately after his graduation from Presidency College in 1955 and, reluctant to take support from his family, worked and taught in night schools to pay part of his way.
It was in England that he seriously turned to socialism, studying under several renowned left-wing scholars at the London School of Economics (LSE). While in England, he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and later France. He finished his doctorate from the LSE under the supervision of G Morton and Alec Nove on “Investment Planning in Poland and USSR”. Alec Nove, dubbed by I D Thatcher as “one of the most significant scholars of Soviet Studies”, was a great chronicler of Soviet economic strategies and problems, and encouraged Chandra to take to studying problems of actual planning in Eastern Europe. Gathering material for his thesis, Chandra lived and worked in Poland for more than a year. Over the 10 years that he lived in UK and in other parts of Europe, Chandra picked up three new languages – French, Russian and Polish. He also met and was influenced by Maurice Dobb and Michal Kalecki. After brief stints in Paris and Delhi, he joined IIM Calcutta as an assistant professor.
Chandra was one of the early recruits to IIM Calcutta. The first director of the Institute, K T Chandy had, in his short five-year tenure, assembled a motley group of bright and heterogeneous scholars at what was India’s first management school. It included economists like Ashok Mitra, Paresh Chattopadhyay, N Krishnaji, Anjan Mukherji, Yoginder Alagh and Ranjit Sau, anthropologists and sociologists/psychologists like Ishwar Prasad, Kamala Chowdhury, Ravi Mathai, and Surajit Sinha, historians like Barun De, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya and Amalendu Guha, along with Laxmi Mohan and Krishna Mohan (who was to succeed Chandy as the Director). Ravi Mathai and Ishwar Dayal would soon leave to set up the IIM at Ahmedabad and Kamla Chowdhury would join them. Surajit Sinha would leave to head Anthropological Survey of India and later Vishva Bharati University. Almost all others distinguished themselves as scholars and institution builders. It is a mark of Chandy’s vision as an institution builder and his persuasive powers that he was able to recruit such a stellar bunch of individuals.
This diverse and heterogeneous group would shape the values and objectives of India’s first management school. To them, “management” was not to be confined to the narrow realm of corporate or business life, but encompassed the entire challenge of managing development and modernisation of a postcolonial economy and society. It was this motley group that Nirmal Chandra joined in 1966 and distinguished himself.
His early publications were several papers on Soviet planning and on China in journals like Soviet Studies, Revue d’ Economie Politique, etc, but he soon turned to writing and publishing on India as well as the challenges of development in neighbouring countries. One of the early articles he wrote in EPW was “Class Character of Pakistani State” (Chandra 1972) and on agrarian classes in both India as well East Pakistan (later Bangladesh), in Now andFrontier. One of his first works on the grip of foreign capital on the Indian economy (“Western Imperialism and India Today”, 1973) became much quoted and the study of multinational corporations remained an abiding interest. To him, third world countries could only develop if they charted a successful path of technological development, independent of foreign capital and its grip on markets and technology. Market power and its use and abuse was therefore of great interest to him and another area of his research was the corporate monopolies and conglomerates and the nature of capitalist class in India.
During the next 40 years Chandra published more than 120 articles and two books. His attention was focused on three broad themes: (i) the problems and contradictions of building socialism in USSR and China; and the relationship of both USSR (and later globalising China) to developing countries like India, (ii) the question of an agrarian transition in India, and (iii) market reforms in China. The first and third themes are discussed by Amiya Kumar Bagchi in the accompanying tribute to Chandra. We discuss here his work on the agrarian transition and related aspects of the Indian economy.
On the Agrarian Transition
Nirmal Chandra was the organiser of an important seminar at IIM Calcutta and Presidency College on the Capitalist Agriculture in India in the 1970s, many of which were subsequently published in the pages of EPW. He was excited with the Left Front’s land reform policies, efforts to strengthen panchayats and transfer resources for decentralised planning and travelled into the countryside with some of his students to see the actual process of implementation. He felt that the left could actually chart a new path of industrial development (Chandra 1978). Hence, the Left Front’s shift to imitating capitalist industrialisation, inviting foreign capital, saddened him greatly and perhaps somewhat disillusioned him as well.
Related was his engagement with the constraints and possibility of an independent industrial development strategy for India – independent of giant multinational corporations that controlled global markets. This is where he asked his students to undertake doctoral studies. All his students worked on themes like foreign direct investment, both inwards and outwards from India, technology transfer and dependent industrialisation, role of the public sector in the struggle to establish a self-reliant industrial base in India, problems of small and tiny industry, and appropriate technology. He celebrated both major and minor successes in development of indigenous technology, national and firm level R&D efforts and the challenges of absorbing these efforts. His students turned out studies on industries like steel, petrochemicals, electrical equipment and pharmaceuticals, spanning both questions of technology and market control.
Nirmal Chandra’s contestation of hegemony and power meant that he supported the nation state as it ranged against the hegemonic tendencies of globalising capital, but within the nation state he supported institutions of federalism, decentralisation and autonomy. His engagement with hegemony and power also led him in other directions: associations with efforts of contesting power from the margins. This led to his lifelong association with two Calcutta political weeklies – Now and Frontier – and with their late editor Samar Sen; with the Bengali cultural magazine,Ekshan; and most recently with Ar Ek Rakam, a magazine of political and cultural debate; with the Association of third world economists founded in 1976; and with various trades unions, small and large, both to contest capital and to devise alternate means of organising economic activity.
A Bon Vivant
If he was, as in Ashok Mitra’s characterisation, the “compleat” scholar he was also a bon vivant and an epicurean. In many ways then Bengal’s culture of addas and Chandra were made for each other and were an important part of his social world. Addas used to happen for some reason (in the honour of a friend passing through town) or for no reason (a few friends were together and the time of day, or night, was right). And it was at these that Chandra was truly in his element, even more so than while in class and teaching. The fusing of an erudite scholar with a bon vivant made for an engagement that was incisive, occasionally sharp and argumentative yet always non-judgmental, inclusive and expansive.
These addas then occasioned many memorable arguments (and even the odd fight!) and if hard words were said (as they were) tomorrow was always another day. For even as he loved a good argument it was always to persuade and never to bludgeon. Fuelled by whatever was the liquor(s) that was on the menu for the day and great food, these addas were truly convivial spaces of camaraderie and comradeship. In the cut and thrust of debate and argument about food, cinema, politics, history and, yes, economics, lessons were learned, nuance appreciated but never ever in a didactic sense. But rather in a collaborative and participatory exploration in trying to understand the world we live in a little better.
Chandra’s fondness for addas had a quotidian avatar in the gathering of some colleagues for lunch every working day at IIM Calcutta. Of this motley group which had a few regulars but whose composition changed over time, Chandra was the fulcrum. Again if there were guests/friends from out of town visiting IIM, they were invited to lunch where food from different kitchens was shared among members present for an abbreviated lunch adda. It is one IIM Calcutta’s longest lasting informal institutions.
Finally, Chandra’s ability to not talk down and engage in a non-judgmental fashion meant that he established independent relationships with many of the children of his friends. And this was reciprocated with love, affection and respect for a person they knew was truly special. God speed Nirmal da. You will be missed.
Chandra, N K (1972): “Class Character of Pakistani State”, Economic & Political Weekly, Annual Number, February.
– (1973): “Western Imperialism and India Today”, Economic & Political Weekly, Annual Number, February.
– (1977) : “USSR and Third World: Unequal Distribution of Gains”, Economic & Political Weekly, Annual Number, February.
– (1978): “Industrialisation and the Left Movement: Some Strategic Questions in West Bengal”, Social Scientist, No 73-76.
– (1995): “China’s Tryst with Globalisation” , Economic & Political Weekly, 28 January.
Nirmal Chandra (1936-2014)
II – Some Academic Contributions
Amiya Bagchi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is emeritus professor at the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata.
I knew Nirmal Kumar Chandra, who passed away recently, from 1952, when we were both students of Presidency College, and treasured him as a friend from the very beginning. The following, however, is not a personal memoir, but a feeble attempt to capture Nirmal Chandra’s distinctiveness as a scholar.
There were three major vectors of the scholarly contributions of Nirmal Kumar Chandra (Nirmal, from now on). The first and perhaps the most extended one was the analysis of the Soviet economic system, and its successor, the Chinese economic strategies, and the developments in the Chinese system since the economic reforms of 1978, and in Russia, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The second vector was the critical scrutiny of the Marxist corpus of class analysis of agriculture from the early writings of Marx down to the Soviet analysis around the strategy of collectivisation under Stalin. Some of this analysis also carried over to his work on agrarian relations in Bardhaman (Burdwan) district, the class character of the Pakistani state (Chandra 1972a), and agrarian relations in the newly independent country of Bangladesh (Chandra 1972b). The third vector was his lifelong engagement with problems of “retarded economies”, with India at the centre.
As far as I can make out, the largest number of Nirmal’s papers was published in the pages of Economic & Political Weekly (EPW). Those of his articles published there up to 1987-88 Nirmal considered worth preserving were put together in his book, The Retarded Economies: Foreign Domination and Class Relations in India and Other Emerging Nations (Bombay: Oxford University Press for Sameeksha Trust, 1988). I have based my analysis primarily on his papers published in EPW from 1982 to 2010, taking into account related papers published elsewhere. (It may be noted that the word count of his papers in EPW over 1982-2010 comes to more than 5,00,000.)
Vectors of Analysis
There are two general points I would like to make about Nirmal’s method. The first is that “vectors” have to be interpreted in the sense of theoretical physics; they have a direction of motion as well as their measure in the conventional sense. The directions changed from time to time, but there was always a gravitational pull exerted by Nirmal’s ultimate desideratum of the construction of a socialist world, and the counter-push of rich-friendly globalisation which he detested. Such pulls and pushes produced a tension in his work, a tension that was sometimes revealed by some change of angle of vision for portraying a problem that had been visited earlier. The second characteristic of his method was Nirmal’s deep focus on the context of the problem. Nirmal was one of the most scholarly and insightful practitioners of what I call “contextual political economy” (Bagchi 2014). All the three vectors of his analysis were, of course, heldtogether by a firmly-held perspective about what is good for the ordinary, generally oppressed, human being anywhere in the world.
Nirmal’s PhD thesis was titled “Investment Planning in Poland and the USSR”. In the course of his long years of research on those problems, he travelled all across Europe, and acquired a formidable competence in three European languages, besides English, namely, Russian, Polish and French. I think that although he came from a wealthy family, he financed most of his research trips in Poland, Russia, France and London by earning money as research scholar, lecturer or translator. During the time I was a PhD student in Cambridge, Nirmal made several rips to Cambridge to meet Maurice Dobb, who besides being the leading Marxist economist in Britain was also an authority on the Soviet economic system (Dobb 1948). I do not know any other Indian economist who could wield familiarity with four European languages as an integral instrument for his scholarly work. Wherever he went, he searched out archives to get the latest information on the subjects that interested him. This foundation also allowed him to use his understanding of the dynamics of the Soviet system, and its successor, Chinese communist system as a fulcrum for providing a profound view of the dynamics of retarded economies.
When he discussed the Soviet economic system, he did not simply describe the structure of the system at any given moment of time. He generally gave a sketch, based on the most scholarly books and articles available on the subject, of how the system came to be what it was during that slice of time. His thesis was supervised by Alec Nove, and he interacted on a regular basis with R W Davies, the joint author of perhaps the most authoritative account of the developed Soviet system (Carr and Davies 1969-71). He had also interactions with Moshe Lewin, when both of them were in Paris. Nove (1972) was a steady reference, but he did not hesitate to contradict his teacher, when more evidence and better reasoning convinced him of the validity of an opposite inference. His paper in the Journal of Peasant Studies (Chandra 1992) is clear evidence of this.
While discussing the dynamics of the Soviet system, he studied closely the reasoning behind and the struggles conducted by the leaders of the movement. Foremost among them was, of course, Lenin, but he also cited and analysed the views of Bukharin (of whose writings he can be regarded as a leading scholar), Trotsky, Rykov, Kalinin and Stalin, as the context demanded. He also analysed in detail the views of A V Chayanov, who is often held up as the quintessential enemy of the Marxist view of the character and role of the peasantry in a socialist revolution (Thorner 1966; Patnaik 1979).
Study of Peasant Economy
Nirmal pointed out several inconsistencies in Chayanov’s view of the peasant economy, but also emphasised the fact that Chayanov’s stress on organising peasant cooperatives in the 1920s was not inconsistent with much of the thinking of the Soviet leaders in the same period. Nirmal also underscored that the tendency of the small peasants to split up as the proportion of workers to consumers increased, even when the land they could acquire was obtained on very onerous terms. He inferred that small peasants suffered from underemployment and this was a factor causing acute land hunger in Tsarist Russia, where the vast expanses of land were often uncultivable, and rich peasants and landlords generally held the better pieces of land.
As Nirmal delved into the strategies to be adopted by a communist party, which believed that it was the industrial workers who would spearhead the socialist revolution even in a country in which such workers formed a small minority, he tackled the issue of the evolution of class analysis by the Marxists, beginning with Marx and Engels in the first place (Chandra 2002a; see also Chandra 2002b). He pointed out that already in The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels had called upon the workers to support the anti-feudal, nationalist movement among the Polish peasants. He referred to Engels’s writings on peasant movements in France and Germany, and the change of attitude of Marx towards the question of the independence movement in Ireland. Marx shifted from a position in which he thought that the industrial working class of England would carry out the liberation of Ireland as a collateral programme of an English socialist revolution to a position in which he regarded the liberation of Ireland as an essential condition of a socialist revolution in Britain. But Nirmal was also careful to underscore that neither Marx nor Engels had conducted a class analysis of peasants or an agrarian society.
According to him, Lenin was the first Marxist to provide a full-blown analysis of the class structure of agrarian economies. He pointed out that there were, however, ambiguities in Lenin’s definition. If the difference between small and middle or rich peasants is determined by the number of horses owned, we get one classification. If it is determined by the amount of land owned we get another classification. The addition of the criterion of wealth which Lenin brings in when he demonstrates that rich peasants also engage in non-agricultural activities such as trade, usury or manufacture, the classification becomes even more complicated. It is typical of Nirmal’s style that he notices that Lenin was one of the first to recognise how poor peasants’ choices are blocked by the interlinkage of markets in labour power, land, peasant produce and loans. But while he cites the very similar later work of Amit Bhaduri and Krishna Bharadwaj, he does not make an issue of the question of priority.
Study of Soviet Industrialisation
In a major reassessment of the role of Bukharin in the Soviet industrialisation debate, Chandra (1992) noted that in The Notes of an Economist, the last major piece on the issue written by Bukharin (in 1928), he had made the very interesting point that the maximum sustainable rate of growth of the economy was not achieved by over-taut planning or capital outlays:
…overtaut capital outlays (a) will not lead to real construction of the same magnitude; (b) will inevitably cause, after a while, disruption in work already commenced; (c) will affect most adversely other branches of production; (d) will affect goods famine all along the line; and (e) in the final count, will lower the rate of growth (Bukharin 1928, as quoted by Chandra 1992, p 111; italics in the original).
Bukharin noted that there was an imbalance between the rates of growth of agriculture and industry, and industrial development was constrained by the shortage of agricultural raw materials such as cotton, leather, flax, silk, etc, and the grain supply was not expanding even at the minimum rate necessary causing a grain shortage. In another statement in 1928, Bukharin attributed the grain crisis to unfavourable trends in grain prices and to the fact that income from grain production was taxed far more highly than the non-labour incomes of kulaks. Grain prices were also too low compared with those of commercial crops. Bukharin’s proposal was to raise grain prices and import grain to build up strategic reserves so that the government could intervene and check speculation.
In The Notes of an Economist, Bukharin also wanted the gestation period, costs of construction and excessive expenditure of metals to be brought down. These steps would help loosen the tautness in the market and help build up reserves. According to Chandra (1992: 112), “Bukharin displayed rare insight and prescience in highlighting the dangers of bureaucratic degeneration through overcentralisation”.
Bukharin was criticised by Stalin, in 1929, attributing to him a position that Bukharin did not hold, namely, that rapid industrialisation was not necessary. Again, it is Nirmal’s style that he does not try to find Stalin’s motive for doing so, but proceeds to demonstrate that Stalin was wrong and Bukharin was right.
Bukharin also pointed out that Stalin’s Urals-Siberian coercive strategy of forcible seizure of grain from the peasants would transform the small commodity producer from a free “‘seller of grain to a sdatchik’, that is, one who is compelled to deliver” (Chandra 1992: 118). With the rejection of the proposal of Bukharin and his friends, Kalinin and Rykov, Stalin’s command economy was born, and the route to the infamous purges of which Bukharin was one of the most tragic victims was paved (for further analysis of the Marxists’ contribution to the analysis of the peasant question in Tsarist Bolshevik Russia, and its similarity and differences from the perspective of Chayanov, see Chandra 1985 and Chandra 2002b).
Nirmal did not rest with just this conclusion, but proceeded to demonstrate, in detail, by examining the sources and composition of agricultural production, the rate of investment, industrial growth patterns, the state of labour supply and wages, and resources available to industry why the Bukharin strategy of industrialisation in Russia from 1929 was feasible, and would have produced better results for the Soviet society as well as economy than Stalin’s command economy and forced collectivisation. But after the demise of the Soviet Union, Nirmal underscored the fact that although under the market-oriented reforms, the Kolkhoz workers were given the freedom to get out of the collective and become private, individual farmers, only a minority exercised that choice.
Study of China’s Economy
Since China’s communist revolution was the beginning of the second greatest attempt at building a socialist revolution in any country, the history of the People’s Republic of China and changes in its trajectory naturally attracted Nirmal’s engaged attention. His interest in this area seems to have become keener after China gave up the model of a command economy of the Soviet pattern in 1978, and began experimenting with market-oriented reforms of various kinds. He was critical of many aspects of these reforms, especially those that promoted a high degree of inequality in Chinese society (Chandra 2009; Chandra 2012). But he was aware of the many continuities between the policies pursued during the time Mao was the great helmsman of China and the time when Deng Xiaoping exercised ideological hegemony over China’s economic and social policies. To take one of the most important examples of this continuity, while Deng was denounced as the number two “capitalist roader” ranking just below Liu Shaoqi, and during the Cultural Revolution was “denigrated by the Red Guards and banished to a remote area”, Nirmal cited (Chandra 1997: 642) the evidence of Henry Kissinger to show that
it was Mao who recalled Deng to Beijing in 1972, personally apologised for the insults heaped on him, and entrusted him with the very important task of rebuilding the Party and administration. Deng was virtually, but not officially, the leader of the Chinese delegation to the United Nations on the historic occasion when China regained her rightful status.
Nirmal continued to analyse China’s (and India’s) influence on the other developing countries. In Chandra (2012) he pointed out that the huge imports by China of various kinds of natural resources and raw materials from other developing countries were making the latter too dependent on China at the cost of their policy autonomy and imperilling the prospects of equitable economic development in those countries.
There are many accounts available of why China instituted comprehensive reforms in agriculture and of the resultant increase in peasant incomes in the 1980s (Khan and Lee 1983; Riskin 1987, Chapter 12; Bagchi 1987, Chapter 4, Section 4.2). Nirmal referred to these changes in his analyses of the Chinese economy, but he was much more concerned to explore the reasons for the so-called opening up of China and the induction of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the economy. Up to 1978, most of the Chinese plants, especially in the so-called heavy industries such as steel production, machine-building industries and so on were of the 1950s Soviet-era vintage, and their technologies had fallen behind the global best-practice techniques. For example, for the smelting of iron ore, China used the open-hearth process, China did not possess the technology for the continuous casting of steel, and there was virtually no electronics industry using micro-chips (Bagchi 1987, Chapter 4). Nirmal repeatedly scrutinised the compulsions on China to induct foreign technology through the FDI route, and the strategies adopted to absorb the imported technologies and minimise the dependence on foreign firms (Chandra 1997, 1999b). He emphasised how China retained policy autonomy by generating more domestic savings than investment and building up huge value of foreign assets. But the depression of domestic consumption and demand involved in this strategy, and the anxiety of Chinese leaders to correct this endemic tendency towards over-saving and over-investment did not escape his attention. His discussion of the compulsion behind the opening up of China as far as the industrial sector is concerned in Chandra (2012) remains one of the most succinct accounts of this trajectory.
Without making a song and dance about it, Nirmal practised the comparative method in tracing the history of ideas and tied it with a critical scrutiny of patterns of development. Chandra (2004), for example, does not address only the problems of contemporary developing countries in the light of the Soviet model of industrialisation, but places the Soviet model itself against the background of Marx’s ideas, and the developments in Germany and western Europe after the second world war. He also places the model against Japan’s strategies for carrying out its industrialisation drive. While the latter comparison might have occurred to many students of Japanese and global industrialisation, I, for one, would not easily have thought of the trajectory of industrialisation and the development of the welfare state there in the context of US Marshall Plan for western Europe as a cold war tool. Nirmal points out that the US accepted many restrictions on imports and foreign investment in Britain, France and Germany, even while opening its own markets to the exports from western Europe. The latter developed its industries behind the wall of protection, and instituted the basic measures of the welfare state. Chandra (2004: 2292) contained the startling comment which I have not met with elsewhere:
One cannot overlook the ‘reverse flow’ of ideas or policies. The success of the Marshall Plan led the Soviets to rethink their policies towards strategic partners. Stalin had not only taken plants from East Germany but also obtained many raw materials and minerals from different parts of east Europe at low prices. Nor did he offer much by way of assistance to China and North Korea. Under Khrushchev the Asian allies got significant aid, and the east Europeans were compensated. When trade expanded under the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), western scholars found that trade during the 1970s brought more gains for east Europe than for the USSR. Cuba, too, benefited immensely.
Another illustration of the comparative method-in-depth occurs in his work when Nirmal (Chandra 1987) examines China’s educational reforms under Deng’s leadership. The educational policies pursued during the Cultural Revolution and under economic reforms both attract criticism from him and he summarises his basic conclusions as follows (ibid: AN-121):
Despite some commendable efforts to democratise education, the Cultural Revolution was bogged down by the inability of the leadership to develop an alternative vision of higher education that would take into account the broader socio-political goals simultaneously with the economic compulsions of a major world power that China already was. Out of this ineptitude grew the authoritarian trend culminating in the repression of intellectuals. The succeeding leadership seems to have exploited these weakness to launch a very different socio-economic order that promotes inequalities at many levels, including the field of education. While committed to the slogan of accelerated growth all round, its achievements in the sphere of education are mixed. The restoration of the status quo ante in higher education and the promotion of postgraduate studies are positive steps, but quite insufficient. The savage cutback in secondary education is thoroughly unjustified.
In this short piece, I do not try to provide a guide to Nirmal’s contributions to the understanding of the political economy of India. Most of them have appeared in the pages of EPW. In these papers, he looked at the positive and negative effects of FDI on the domestic economy in different counties of the world, and related the inferences to the Indian context. He loathed the neoliberal model as it has been forced down the throats of the majority in developing countries by the US imperialist bloc, international organisations carrying out the prescriptions of the Washington Consensus and the domestic collaborators in the developing countries (Chandra 1999a). He analysed the ways in which neo-liberalism impedes social and human development and binds the structurally adjusted economy to external agencies, and how unregulated inflows and outflows of capital can cause turbulence and depression domestic rates of investment. In the later years he was especially concerned about the need generated by Indian government policies to attract debt-creating foreign capital (Chandra 2008). He had been severely critical of the proposals related to intellectual property rights – the proposals that were substantially incorporated in the WTO agreement later (Chandra 1993). He then proceeded to sketch how developing countries such as India could develop their R&D and benefit from a strategic absorption of foreign technology (Chandra 1994). Many of these papers will still be useful if a student of the Indian economy wants to have a critical look at the way R&D policies and current account deficits are being managed by the present controllers of economic policies in India.
There was one paper by Nirmal in an anthology (Chandra 1981; this had been published earlier in EPW in 1979), which has not attracted scholars’ attention as much as it should have done. This was a detailed study of the growth of monopoly houses in India since the 1930s. It provided a historical retrospective to the studies by R K Hazari, the Monopolies Inquiry Commission and the Subimal Dutt Committee and brought them forward to the middle 1970s. Another massive inquiry into the growth of the Indian economy since 1900, published in EPW (Chandra 1982), invites comparison with the estimates of national income in Sivasubramonian (2000). There has always been a substantial proportion of guesswork in estimates of Indian GDP. However, the proportion of guesswork to hard data has increased enormously during the period of neo-liberal reforms. Two factors have contributed to this increasing unreliability of official estimates (Sanyal and Das 2014). The first is that as the private sector’s legal and illegal activities have boomed during the period, official agencies have found it more and more difficult to obtain even legally mandated data from private enterprises. In case of illegal activities, the state has often turned a blind eye to them, and has not been keen to probe into them. Secondly, there has been a tendency in the highest political circles to inflate rates of growth and even honest statisticians have found it difficult to resist political pressures to inflate growth rates. Nirmal’s keen mind was always alert towards all these pitfalls, and his critique of neo-liberal policies was generally accompanied by attempts to ferret out snags in the information base. Younger scholars with a similar attitude towards the integrity of information would be inspired by Nirmal’s writings in this area.
I now take leave of an extraordinary human being and scholar whom I had the privilege of knowing as a friend over six decades of our lives.
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