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The Sachin I Knew

It was because of his pragmatism that some thought Sachin's Economic Weekly did not reflect any social philosophy. But the discerning readers could notice the strong undercurrent of free and fearless inquiry into social processes.

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

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The Sachin I Knew Five years had elapsed since then, and
after talking to various friends and Sachin
himself I found what a significant role
the EW played in India for inspiring and
V V Bhatt encouraging young economists to think

It was because of his pragmatism that some thought Sachin’s Economic Weekly did not reflect any social philosophy. But the discerning readers could notice the strong undercurrent of free and fearless inquiry into social processes.

V V Bhatt (GBHATT@imf.org) was in the Reserve Bank of India in the mid-1950s when he began his lifelong association with the Economic Weekly and his friendship with Sachin Chaudhuri.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
january 10, 2009

J
ust a few months after I joined the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) I had a telephone call from the eminent, imaginative and farsighted editor of the Economic Weekly (EW) – Sachin Chaudhuri – to meet him at his dilapidated office. I remembered that I had first met him in the latter half of 1948, a few months after he started his Weekly.

My colleagues and I had written four papers on the analysis of inflation in India. B V Krishnamurthy liked these papers

– he was then teaching at the Bombay School at the university – and suggested that we should publish them in the EW. So he arranged for an interview with Sachin – who relied on him for contributions to the EW.

I found Sachin to be a pan-chewing person; with thick glasses and a hoarse voice. He asked me several questions about our papers, which I thought were irrelevant and did not evince his knowledge of economics. Having acquired a Master’s degree in the entire subject of Economics at the prestigious Bombay School, which was then the only school of its type in India, we were at that time a little arrogant. So we refused to submit our papers to his weekly.

and write on various themes relevant for India’s economic development. It had become a medium for discussion and debate about various aspects of socio-economic policies and economic development and strategy. He encouraged all economists to write in this weekly, irrespective of their ideology as long as these articles contributed to vigorous discussion, which could enlighten those who were interested in serious discussion of India’s policies. He had no ideological bias and cultivated all young economists who could contribute to the EW, which had the motto: Light Without Heat.

Sachin had a knack of locating promising young economists. Having learned about me possibly from my friends like K S Krishnaswamy, he thought that I could be useful in strengthening the EW. And so we met. After that I had a lifelong friendship with him and his weekly, and later on had a significant association with R H Hazari and Krishna Raj, who were editors of the new incarnation of the EW – the Economic & Political Weekly (EPW). Krishna Raj made EPW much more relevant for the themes of not only socio-economic development but also politics, history and several other themes that can contribute to knowledge and enlightenment.

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

I wrote for the EW initially anonymously and later as Savya Sachi, a pseudonym suggested by Sachin. Sometimes he would call on me at short notice to comment on recent events and sometimes for writing editorials. On my own, I wrote several articles anonymously or as Savya Sachi. The EW was unique in combining editorial comments, notes and comments on recent events and, above all, learned articles on various themes by Indian and foreign economists.

My first piece was a critical comment on an article by K N Raj, a friend of Sachin and strong supporter of the EW. This comment later on in the discussion was referred to as by a person called “X”. Immediately after this, I wrote a satirical piece (authored by “Y”, as the discussants called the author) on Raj’s citing authorities in support of his thesis. I described this method of discussion as being in shastric tradition. This discussion and debate continued for some time. Later Joan Robinson summed up the discussion in an article. K N Raj did not like my comments, Sachin told me, and complained why he published such nonsense. While telling me this he was having a hearty laugh. He said that the EW did not respect any authority (including that of its friends and supporters). This was the first time a controversy was generated in the weekly.

Immediately after, another controversy commenced. Amartya Sen had written an article in the EW on the opportunity cost of labour in India. This provoked one “Shrinivasan” (pseudonym for Deena Khatkhate) to make critical comments on the article. This controversy went on for some time. Sachin, who liked Sen as a promising young economist and as a friend, was not deterred from publishing several rejoinders by “Shrinivasan”. (I met Sen in 1965 in Bangkok where I was working as a develop ment economist at the United Nations’ Asian Institute of Economic Develop ment and Planning. He asked me in a very friendly way who were “X” and “M Shrinivasan”. We had a hearty laugh after I disclosed their identity.)

The third controversy, for which I was responsible, arose as a result of Jagdish Bhagwati’s article in the mid-1960s, which he had sent for publication in the EW. The entire Delhi establishment – I G Patel, K N Raj and the rest – and A K Dasgupta, a highly respected friend of Sachin, a supporter of the Weekly and an eminent economist – were all against any public discussion of such a sensitive issue as the devaluation of the rupee. Sachin was pondering about publishing Jagdish’s well-argued piece. When we met, as we did frequently, at his Churchill Chambers flat, he asked my view. I said, “Sachin, your motto is Light Without Heat. You pride yourself as an editor who wants to generate free discussion and debate. How can you not publish this well-reasoned article by a young promising economist?” Sachin saw my point and published the article, which generated a lively controversy initially after a rejoinder by A K Dasgupta, who was against rupee devaluation.

Such, then, had been the EW and has been its later incarnation – the EpW.

Light Without Heat

I must cite one other instance that illustrates Sachin’s devotion to adhere to his motto “Light Without Heat”. Pitambar Pant was then working on the dimension of the Second Five-Year Plan in the Perspective Planning Division of the Planning Commission. That was a time when a sort of consensus was generated in the Planning Commission, among young Indian economists, and also supported by e minent foreign economists about a plan that would emphasise the development of basic industries – machines to make machines – as indicated by the Mahalanobis approach. Sachin asked me to write an editorial commenting on the way in which planning was taking place. I wrote a very

january 10, 2009

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

critical editorial, emphasising the crudity of the planning process, which neglected the implications of the strategy for intersector development and its disregard for the constraints of domestic and foreign resources. The editorial was titled “Platitudes on Planning”. Pitambar was annoyed by such a piece and wrote to Sachin complaining about such destructive critique of the planning process. Sachin, as usual, disregarded this complaint, in spite of his close relations with Pitambar Pant.

I explained the logic of my criticism by writing an article on the input-output technique as a tool for planning in a later issue of the EW. At this time Richard Goodwin was in India, as a consultant to the Ministry of Finance and Planning Commission. When he came to the Bombay School of Economics, he read my article and said, “I could not have written on this technique better than you have done”. Among all the foreign economists who came to India at this time at the invitation of Mahalanobis, Goodwin’s contribution to the planning process was the most significant. The other economist who commented on Indian planning and development in a very creative and constructive manner was Gunnar Myrdal, who wrote his book Asian Drama in India while he was in Delhi along with his wife Alva, whose research with regard to the impact of education for Indian development was published in a chapter on education in Gunnar’s book.

From 1966, when the EPW began p ublication, I wrote all my articles in my name, beginning with one on external a ssistance. This was the article Sachin was said to have been reading when he passed away.

The EPW soon became a social institution in which anybody struggling to clarify the prevalent ideas or to create new ones was induced to participate. This institution was wider and greater than the EW and established communication links here as well as abroad among intellectuals interested in understanding and initiating the process of social change in the developing countries. It served as a centre for the transmission of impulses to systematic enquiry of the social process. The EPW thus became unique; there has been no other

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
january 10, 2009

journal here or abroad which performs a comparable function.

And thus Sachin the man, after a long struggle (he was over 40 when he founded the EW), found a social task to his liking and this task he performed with rare dedication and single-mindedness and almost single-handed. One who has watched him at this task sitting in ever-shifting cabins, “scorning delights and living laborious days” – his instruments consisting of a phone, a rare ability of attracting and “exploiting” persons of diverse talents and temperaments and the will to drown in his loud and defiant laughter the many obstacles that frequently blocked his way – would realise the nature and quality of individual initiative and struggle that is necessary to ignite a social process.

And thus he kindled a lamp “with the burning fire of desire” – a lamp that lighted many other lamps both here and abroad. When the path is lighted, people may forget the flickerless flame which burnt itself steadily so that the other lamps could be lighted. But whether they forget him or not, the lighted path would stand as a monument to his strivings.

It was because of his pragmatism that some thought Sachin’s EW did not reflect any social philosophy. But the discerning readers could notice the strong undercurrent of free and fearless inquiry into social processes. Social reality cannot be fully reflected in models of any type and the understanding of the social process can improve only to the extent to which thought is allowed free play in the light of gathering experience.

History seems to have assigned to the Indian people (Sachin wrote in one of the few papers published under his name) the unique task of translating a fundamental unity which is cultural and spiritual into a proposition of government and administration. This is not a problem that could be solved once and for all by drawing up a Constitution or a national economic programme. The integration of India neither begins nor ends with the framing of the Constitution; the attempt has to be renewed every day as v arious interests clash and collide. It has been asked and it is likely to be asked more insistently in the next few years: Will India hold together? Some have read in the political scene signs that India is falling apart. Why India? Every one is falling apart – some effort has continuously to be made to hold oneself together.

What is necessary for the constant renewal of this effort, he said, is “the interaction of minds which releases thought from its fixed moulds” – the interaction which was “a constant and recurring reality” in the creative period of the Buddha and the Upanishads and other such periods in Indian history.

Sameeksha Trust

And thus the EW stood for this “inter action of minds” so that thought could be released from its fixed moulds of preconceived ideologies and the related systems of consistency. Sachin conceived the role of the EW as that of a detached and dispassionate critic of the interaction of thought and action in India and abroad and in fact wanted this new weekly to be called Sameeksha, a pregnant Sanskrit word for which there is no apt English equivalent. He liked this word also because in one form or another it had expressed the depth of the meaning of the thought-currents in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita and the Dhammapada. He had a certain fascination for Buddhism and was often eloquent about the magnificent way in which it spread beyond the seas and civilised the diverse races of Asia. He was an ardent advocate of setting up a Buddhist university at Sarnath, a movement which he believed could again civilise and unite the people of Asia. Jawaharlal Nehru with his sense of history, he thought, should have been attracted by this idea but much to his disappointment was not. The trust which he created is named the Sameeksha Trust. The present generation of social scientists could not appreciate this title for the EPW. Does our history begin only with 1947? he mused. Sachin lived for his two weeklies and the social institution which they created, and will ever live through it, provided the EpW remains true to the ideal he had kept before himself.

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