Plus & Minus

“A weekly column: Plus&Minus will be published in Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live. This will speak to the ordinary reader on contemporary economic issues in a simple format”.

    Economist Jagdish Bhagwati in town
    Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live, August 10, 2009

By Pradeep S Mehta

Mention Bharatnatyam and Indian economic policy makers will scowl. It’s not because of any irrational prejudices against the south Indian classical dance form. It’s because of Jagdish Bhagwati’s famous and uncharitable quip about economic talent in government: “If these guys are economists, then I’m a Bharatnatyam dancer!” Of course Bhagwati is not especially known for his diplomatic skills, one of the reasons that the Nobel Prize, which he so rightly deserves, has eluded him.

Bhagwati was reacting to the 2002 budget, when he made his famous remark. His opinion on the budget not being good enough was perhaps a back handed compliment – some good economics, but not a crowd pleaser, and possibly not a major growth booster either.

One can expect a similar and delightful analysis from him on India’s reforms, when he delivers the Raj Krishna Memorial Lecture on 12th August afternoon at the University of Rajasthan at Jaipur: “India’s Reforms: Past Achievements and Future Challenges”. He will also be receiving a D. Litt from the University of Rajasthan at an exclusive convocation as he could not make it in March.

He has served as an adviser to India’s Finance Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, now Prime Minister, on India’s economic reforms.

Bhagwati’s achievements and contributions to the society cannot be expressed in their full splendour in this small article. He is an American economist originally of Indian nationality, and younger brother of another famous Indian: Justice P. N. Bhagwati. His wife, Padma Desai is a noted and accomplished economist, specialising on Russia.

In 2000, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan award. Presently a professor at Columbia University and senior fellow of International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, Bhagwati is reckoned as one of the leading international trade economists.

He has been Adviser to Arthur Dunkel, Director General of GATT (1991-93), Special Adviser to the UN on Globalisation, and External Adviser to the WTO. He has served on the Expert Group appointed by the Director General of the WTO on the Future of the WTO and the Advisory Committee to the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on the NEPAD process in Africa.

Bhagwati presently serves on the advisory boards of Human Rights Watch (Asia) and the CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics & Environment, and on the board of scholars of the Centre for Civil Society.

A prolific writer, Bhagwati is regarded as the most inventive modern international trade theorist of the world and a pioneer in the battle for freer trade. His most read book, “In Defense of Globalisation” published in 2004 got several critical accolades. Bhagwati often refers to himself as a one man NGO, because of his passionate defence of what he believes in.

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