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Memories of a Teacher

A tribute to Dalip S Swamy (1934-2010), a gifted teacher who was committed to his students and whose compassion for the poor overrode the need to publish academic papers.

COMMENTARY

Memories of a Teacher

Pushpam Kumar

cial economics, especially banking and finance in India. His works on “Economies of Scale in Banking” (EPW, Vol 8, N0 8, 1976), “On Deficit Financing” (Indian Econo mic Review) and “Flow of

A tribute to Dalip S Swamy (1934-2010), a gifted teacher who was committed to his students and whose compassion for the poor overrode the need to publish academic papers.

Pushpam Kumar (pushpam@liv.ac.uk) is with the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
April 24, 2010

A
fter a prolonged illness, Dalip Swamy passed away on 6 April 2010 in Delhi. An inspiration to a large number of students, colleagues and social activists, Dalip Swamy’s career in research, teaching and activism spanned more than four decades: at the University of Pennsylvania, the Southern Methodist University, Dallas and the Standard Oil Company, New J ersey in the United States (US), and at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and the Department of Business Economics, University of Delhi in India.

A promising student at Hindu College and the Delhi School of Economics in the 1950s, Dalip Swamy made his mark as a bright student who combined top scores in Raj Krishna’s lectures with volunteering for work in backward regions of Bihar and Orissa and associating himself with V K R V Rao’s project work at the Delhi School of Economics. After a stint as lecturer in Kirori Mal College, Delhi University, he headed for Leeds University in the United Kingdom to pursue another master’s course, and subsequently to the University of Pennsylvania for doctoral work.

Structural macroeconomics was a challenging field in the 1960s and 1970s and was Dalip Swamy’s area of special interest. He did pioneering work on the econometric analysis of the US capital markets under the supervision of Nobel Laureate econometrician L R Klein (Swamy 1970).

Understanding the interdependence of various sectors of the economy and how it affects the growth of the nation fascinated him. He produced seminal work, including a paper on how imbalances in the sectoral growth rate of different countries show a pattern to the process of national development and found that sectoral growth rate imbalance need not inhibit the overall growth of the economy (Swamy 1967).

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, he attempted to explore issues in finan

vol xlv no 17

Funds in Indian Manufacturing Sector” (Sankhya 1975) are the results of these early interests.

Return to India

Dalip Swamy was an extremely sensitive and honest researcher who saw economics as a discipline to help policymakers improve the lives of the poor and destitute. He saw a clear role for himself in the contemporary development debate in India. During this time of ideas and ideals, Dalip Swamy and many others wanted to establish a society free of misery and exploitation, and India was struggling to cope with growing poverty and inequality. The “trickle down” effect was not proving to be effective, inflation was soaring, and all that Indira Gandhi could offer was the slogan of “Garibi Hatao”. Political unrest, unemployment, attacks on freedom of expression and social tensions were all around.

Dalip Swamy decided to head back to India so that he could play an active role during this trying time and joined the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA). That was in 1972. It was at this time that he started grappling with the issues of the agrarian economy of India. His works, some of them with his student Ashok Gulati, about the dependence of poor agriculturalists on farming, and the falling income of the Indian farmers since the 1970s show how his interests shifted (Swamy 1986, 1976).

Originally from a village of west Delhi, he returned to the city and joined the University of Delhi in 1975 at the time of the Emergency and actively campaigned against interference with freedom of expression, particularly for academic institutions. He was a founding member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and later, became its general secretary during 1986-90. He was instrumental in highlighting the atrocities committed by the police in the Meerut riots as a member of a fact-finding committee, along with V M Tarkunde, I K Gujral and A M Khusro.

COMMENTARY

Dalip Swamy started dedicating a substantial amount of his time to social and political issues in India. Whether it was communal violence in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, caste war in Bihar, exploitation of factory workers in Delhi, r esettlement of displaced tribals due to the Sardar Sarovar Project or the growing fundamentalism in the country, Dalip Swamy would always be present on the scene, conduct an objective assessment of the situation and bring it to the attention of the intelligentsia through his transparent writing.

Committed Teacher

Honest values, moral rectitude, compassion for the poor and the less privileged and normative values for a more equal and just society were his guiding principles. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was so e ngrossed and engaged in these burning political and civic issues that his academic research took a back seat. He considered events in the social and political arena so alarming that he would not have been satisfied just writing for academic journals.

Nevertheless, he was deeply committed to his students and his classes. His commitments to students and the classroom were no less than any religious b elief although he never believed in any ritual of religion. One of my most vivid recollections of Dalip Swamy was during a campaign against communalism, organised by some university teachers after the December 1992 Babri Masjid demolition. As Dalip Swamy was heading for the classroom, a group of teachers came down the corridor of the campus asking teachers and students to participate in the event. Everyone thought that Dalip Swamy would be easily persuaded to release his students. To their surprise, he convinced his fellow teachers otherwise and took his class. He reasoned: “Even Marx would not approve of bunking classes!”

My association with Dalip Swamy lasted more than 20 years, as his student (MA, MPhil, PhD), and subsequently, his colleague in the Department of Business Economics, University of Delhi, South Campus. His lectures on macroeconomics and the Indian economy were very popular with students who easily felt inspired, and to some extent, concerned too about India and its development problems.

I remember after his lengthy double lectures (sometimes lasting for four hours), most of us, instead of rushing to catch the university special bus in a hurry to get back to our homes or hostels, would forget everything around us and start thinking about how to tackle issues of efficiency and equity; whether a fully employed society is possible; whether imbalances in the external sector really show up imbalances in the domestic sector; whether political masters can be made receptive to chronic poverty and unemployment; and many other important questions.

Short and Straight

In fact, even today when I meet old friends and students, especially academics in the US, UK and back home in India, we talk fondly about Swamy’s lectures and invariably conclude that we are yet to see a more engaging and inspiring lecturer. His ability to deliver the material in this engaging way was a result of his scholarship and genuine concern. In one of my intimate chats with him in the canteen of the South Campus, I asked how he managed to make his lectures so appealing. His response was straight and short: “I observe the problem and apply the basic theories of economics science to explain them, without bothering much on what others have to say”. His understanding of issues and the capacity to illustrate them in a lucid style is eminently evident from the books he authored for the students (for example, Swamy 1980).

I cannot help but remember my long discussions with him on political and social development in India during the post-liberalisation period. His sharp and insightful ideas had great depth and range, some of which can be found in his last book, Political Economy of Industrialisation (1994). His health declined after a paralytic attack in 1999. As a result, he struggled to pronounce many words. For those of us who knew him well, it was painful to see such an elegant speaker struggling to convey his ideas.

Dalip Swamy’s understanding and expertise in open macroeconomics were clearly visible when he predicted a global financial crisis during a conversation with me in 2006. Sadly, his poor health prevented him from documenting his predictions.

I met him regularly during my visits to India and his response to any request to see him would always be “come anytime”... This was not the case when I called him in December 2009 as he was unable to communicate for long periods of time. His failing health and third stroke had made him extremely weak and he was losing his vision. When I did see him, we continued our usual chats about the environment and economy – issues of my interest – and he would listen and intervene occasionally. I remember thinking at that time that this might be our last meeting. The news of his demise came to me on 7 April 2010.

References

Swamy, Dalip S (1967): “Statistical Evidence of Balanced and Unbalanced Growth”, The Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol 49, No 3, August, pp 288-303.

  • (1970); “An Econometric Study of the United States Financial Markets”, Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Pennsylvania, United States.
  • (1976): “Differentiation of Peasantries in India”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 11, No 55.
  • (1980): Macroeconomics: Management and Policies (New Delhi: McMillan).
  • (1986): “From Prosperity to Retrogression: Indian Cultivators during the 1970s”, Ecomonic & Political Weekly, Vol 21, No25/26
  • (1994): Political Economy of Industrialisation from Self Reliance to Globalisation (New Delhi: Sage).
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    April 24, 2010 vol xlv no 17

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