Lalit Deshpande (1933–2020)

Gentle Giant of Labour Economics

Lalit Deshpande’s tremendous work on labour economics, unemployment and migration was strongly influenced by his liberal principles. He was among the chosen few who tasted life to the fullest.

It is a sad but sacred duty to write the obituary of a close friend. I had known L K Deshpande (Lalit to his friends) for over five decades since the mid-1960s. Such a long span of friendship leads people to expect that one is ideally suited to afford a perspective on the other’s life and personality, and this expectation can very often be difficult to fulfil. Nevertheless, I will try to make a modest effort in this direction.

Like many of his generation, Lalit had, what can best be described by the title of Gustave Flaubert’s book, a “sentimental education.” Lalit’s attitude to life was thus, unsurprisingly, underpinned by three cardinal principles—a strong sense of nationalism (inspired by the sacrifices in the freedom movement that he must have witnessed as a child), a romantic idealism (à la H W Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy and M K Gandhi) and an attraction towards socialist ideals (which, however, fell short of a full commitment to Marxist principles). He intensely disliked being straitjacketed by labels, but observing his writings and actions closely, he can best be described as a radical humanist. Like M N Roy, his views on society, the economy and polity were founded on reason and ethics rather than dogma, and he placed humanity at the focal point of all his endeavours.

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Updated On : 5th Oct, 2020

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