Gentler proponent of laissez-faire

Sandeep Dikshit

Isher Judge Ahluwalia’s biography, “Breaking Through — A Memoir”, will be read with more than a touch of poignancy as the author passed away within a month of its release.

There is an added poignancy to the passing away of a brilliant economist in the midst of the country’s worst-ever economic crisis and to not having been consulted by the powers that be.

In her brilliant saris, coiffured hair and her presence at high-visibility events, Isher Judge may have seemed to be the epitome of the Harvard-bred Khan Market Gang that the current regime deigns to shun.

But as her book reveals, it was the hard work of this number nine of eleven children of a Punjabi pickle maker that propelled her with distinction through Presidency College, Delhi School of Economics and finally MIT. Her mentors along the way: Bimal Jalan, Amartya Sen, Manmohan Singh and Paul Samuelson. She was among the young turks of economic liberalisation, who along with her husband, positioned themselves against the status quoits crowd of the licence-quota-permit-raj early on in her career.

Though the Central governments of the Congress persuasion absorbed the homilies that came from the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), an institution she built herself, her home state Punjab saw fit to requisition her services only in 2005 when Capt Amarinder Singh was the Chief Minister.

It is also a tribute to her mite in building up the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) that when she stepped down as the chairman on August 11 she was unanimously made its first chairman-emeritus, never mind that this may not have been to the current regime’s liking.

As was the case with her husband, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, there was just no doubt where they stood in the politics of economic development. . With the advent of the BJP government, Isher Judge focused on the ICRIER, encouraging her wards to keep pushing the boundaries of economic thought.

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