ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ashok Mitra (1928–2018)


For me, the greatness of Ashok Mitra, who passed away recently, lies in the fact that his contributions to the understanding of centre–state relations in India were most illuminating. What distinguished Mitra was his attempt to develop a Marxist framework on centre–state relations. This area of work is not popular among left-wing economists in India, partly due to the difficulty of empirical substantiation of centre–state relations (except in finance), but more due to the difficulty of working out the process by which the class interests get implicated in these relations.

Mitra’s book Terms of Trade and Class Relations was a pioneering work on understanding the relations between agriculture and industry in the context of India’s capitalist economy, while also providing brilliant insights on the implications of those relations for centre–state conflicts in India. This book still remains a unique work of its kind. When I was a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University I had the opportunity to listen to a series of lectures he gave on this book, and I have never forgotten the thrust of those lectures, especially relating to class dimensions in the working of Indian federalism. Later, when I was at Oxford University, researching centre–state relations and their implications on regional development—in order to understand Punjab’s development pattern—I complained once to Meghnad Desai (who also takes interest in centre–state relations) that apart from Mitra, his generation of left-wing economists had not produced good, theoretically-informed work on this subject, which younger scholars could look to for further development. Desai agreed, with a somewhat evasive and yet challenging response that this academic void should perhaps encourage me to develop such theoretical work myself. With the view of meeting this challenge, I thought of getting in touch with Mitra.

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Updated On : 11th May, 2018
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