JNU rejoices for Nobel laureate

In a post, Abhijit Banerjee speaks about the ‘feel’ of the university and its ‘rugged beauty’

The Jawaharlal Nehru University community rejoiced on Monday as Professor Abhijit Banerjee of MIT was declared joint winner of the Nobel Prize in economics.

Teachers recollected his campus presence and activism during the last prime ministerial tenure of Indira Gandhi in the early 1980s when JNU was rocked by students’ protests.

“He was extremely well read by the time he came to JNU to do his M.A. in economics and had interest in many other disciplines. He was passionate about certain things and would pen poetry on issues that moved him,” said Professor Janaki Nair of the Centre for Historical Studies, who was a campus friend of the Nobel laureate during 1981-83.

She said Prof. Banerjee was active in the university’s academic and political discussions and JNU gave him the opportunity to pursue cross disciplinary research.

The university was known as a hotbed of critics of the government who would often hold protests against Indira Gandhi’s policies. Prof. Banerjee also participated in discussions regarding the trade union movement in Poland, which had triggered a big internal debate in the orthodox Marxist sections of the university.

“We all participated in discussions on the developments in Poland and Abhijit took part in them and spoke about the condition of the Eastern Bloc,” recalled Prof. Nair. On one occasion Prof. Banerjee was taken away by the police, which triggered a bigger movement on campus prompting the authorities to arrest a large number of students, said Prof. Nair

In a social media post, the Nobel laureate talked about the “feel” of JNU and its rugged beauty and intellectual atmosphere that drew him to the university.

Prof. Nair and India’s present ambassador to the Netherlands Venu Rajamony are among the friends of JNU that he recollected.

Prof. Manoj Pant, former professor of JNU and current Vice-Chancellor of the Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), who invited Prof. Banerjee for a conference in JNU a few years ago, said it’s a timely recognition of the work being done by Prof. Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer in the field of experimental economics, “which is helping us understand the reasons behind growing income disparity in the world”.

Income disparity

“Income disparity is a huge challenge as the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and Prof. Banerjee has been designing policies and programmes that will help in creating an inclusive economic structure in the world,” said Prof. Pant.

Prof. C.P. Chandrashekhar of the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU, said he was “delighted” with the news of Prof. Banerjee winning the Nobel.

The announcement also gave rise to some soul-searching on campus with former Dean of the School of International Studies Prof. Anuradha Chenoy saying that Prof. Banerjee was shaped by JNU’s freedom of thought, expression and culture.

Change in atmosphere

“The university at present does not possess the academic freedom that was available before 2016,” she added.

“Despite the difficulties with the government in the early 1980s till 2016, all kinds of opinions were heard and accommodated in JNU and scholars had the space to voice opinion of all shades. I don’t think JNU, in its current state, can produce another Abhijit Banerjee,” said Prof. Chenoy.

Former JNU Students’ Union president N. Sai Balaji said the Nobel for Prof. Banerjee reflected JNU’s ethos, which provided scholars with a space of interaction for all ideas. “That is what helped Abhijit and makes JNU a unique place of learning,” said Mr. Balaji.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 12:29:30 AM |

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