By Dr Arup Mitra
Professor B. B. Bhattacharya, a leading economist in the country passed away on February 14. As a macro economist, he is of incomparable repute which he earned through a creative mind and sheer diligence. At a very young age, he became a Professor at the Institute of Economic Growth where he served for nearly three decades before becoming the Vice-Chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
A storehouse of knowledge
Interestingly, the first note he exchanged with me, asking for my comments, was nothing related to economics – it was on the image of the ‘hero’ in Bengali literature. The background reading he had done to reflect on the work of famous novelists was in-depth and highly impressive. After some more interactions, his expertise in English and Russian literature was unravelled.
A strong admirer of Bertrand Russel, he would often refer to Principia Mathematica and the Conquest of Happiness in his arguments and conversations. He was one of the traditional teachers and researchers who believed in writing something after discussing the issue for hours. And in the course of these discussions, he would surpass subject boundaries and delve into historical narratives, philosophical perspectives, social issues and the scientific angles—a unique quality which, in all likeliness, he inherited from some of his illustrious teachers like Amartya Sen and Sukhamoy Chakravarty.
From K L Krishna, his Ph. D. supervisor at the Delhi School of Economics, he mastered the art of thoroughness while pursuing quantitative analysis. He would often remind us that going beyond the figures through intuitive insight is something imperative for a researcher.
Guide, mentor, academician at heart
Despite his extensive knowledge, interacting with people junior to him and often with much lesser capabilities never bothered him. Neither did he have any ego when it came to academic interactions. Attending seminars and offering substantive comments fell into his regular schedule. The warmth he combined with protective guardianship is rarely found in today’s world. Even while pointing out follies, he would do so very discreetly. His actions never made a reference to the past, howsoever brutal and disturbing it might have been.
In fact, he possessed terrific coolness; very rarely was he seen to be angry and even then, that anger was accompanied by affection and a tremendous sense of humour.
The cause and objective of any undesirable comment—be it academic or non-academic—was so clear that it enabled him to exercise self-control.
The warmth he combined with protective guardianship is rarely found in today’s world. Even while pointing out follies, he would do so very discreetly. His actions never made a reference to the past, howsoever brutal and disturbing it might have been. In fact, he possessed terrific coolness; very rarely was he seen to be angry and even then, that anger was accompanied by affection and a tremendous sense of humour. The cause and objective of any undesirable comment—be it academic or non-academic—was so clear that it enabled him to exercise self-control.
Contributions to economic policy and research
He worked on various areas which included macroeconomics, international finance, development economics and economic modelling. Not only was he efficient in making sensible forecasts of macro variables with his command over the technicalities of the model, but he was also able to foresee the areas with greater research potentiality.
This enabled him to work on a wide range of issues and contribute significantly to policy making. He served several government committees and lectured policy makers at various fora. Various government ministries and bodies including, but not limited to, the MHRD, the RBI and the Planning Commission have benefitted from his deliberations.
His list of awards includes the Government of France’s Order de Palms Academie in addition to honours bestowed on him by the governments of Romania, Mongolia and Poland. He also received the Kalidas Samman from the Oriental Heritage Society of India. Gifted with a magnificent voice, he was a terrific singer. Songs by Tagore such as ‘Ajibijangharenishith rate asbejadisunya hate’ in his voice could cast a strange awe on any audience.
Few, unless they worked with him very closely, knew that he had a tremendous sense of divinity in and around him and that, in all likeliness, helped him stay above his daily travails.
Professor B.B. Bhattacharya will be sorely missed.