JNU community rejoices after alumnus Abhijit Banerjee wins Nobel

October 14, 2019 09:30 pm | Updated October 15, 2019 12:47 am IST - New Delhi

Abhijit Banerjee, Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology delivering his lecture at the 7th C. K. Prahalad Memorial Lecture "Can India Keep Growing" at Asiatic Library Hall in Mumbai on Tuesday, Mumbai: December 10, 2018

Abhijit Banerjee, Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology delivering his lecture at the 7th C. K. Prahalad Memorial Lecture "Can India Keep Growing" at Asiatic Library Hall in Mumbai on Tuesday, Mumbai: December 10, 2018

The JNU community rejoiced on Monday with the announcement of Prof. Abhijit Banerjee of MIT as the 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 (Jawaharlal Nehru University) was rocked by student protests.

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

Prof Nair said that 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. 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 JNU.

“We all participated on discussions on the developments in Poland and Abhijit took part on the discussions on the condition of the Eastern Block at that time,” remembered Ms Nair. On one occasion, said the historian, Banerjee was taken away by the police and that triggered a bigger movement on campus prompting the authorities to arrest large number of students, Prof Nair said recounting the time that Abhijeet Banerjee spent on campus in JNU.

In a social media post, the Nobel laureate has talked about the “feel” of JNU and its rugged beauty and intellectual atmosphere that drew him to the university. Ms 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 Banerjee for a conference in JNU a few years ago, said that it’s a timely recognition as Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer are pursuing the field of experimental economics which is helping in understanding the reasons behind growing income disparity in the world. “Income disparity is a huge challenge as the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and Banerjee has been designing policies and programmes that will help in creating an inclusive economic structure in the world,” said Prof Pant. Prof CP Chandrashekhar of the Centre of Economic Studies and Planning of JNU said, he was “delighted” with the news of Banerjee winning the Nobel along with Duflo and Kremer.

The Nobel also caused some soul searching in the campus with former Dean of the School of International Studies Prof Anuradha Chenoy saying that Banerjee was shaped by JNU’s freedom of thought, expression and culture. But she said that the university at present does not possess the academic freedom that was available before 2016. “Despite the difficulties with the government, in 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 Abhijeet Banerjee,” said Prof Chenoy.

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

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