Monday, December 21, 2009

Subramaniam Swamy on Paul Samuelson

The best tribute to Paul Samuelson I have seen comes from Subramaniam Swamy. It is what tributes ideally should be- a combination of personal memoir and assessment of the individual. (Not that Swamy is able to do full justice to Samuleson's varied contributions). An interesting aside is on how the establishment at Delhi School of Economics prevented Swamy from getting in (and he had to settle for IIT Delhi instead):

Amartya Sen invited me to join the Delhi School of Economics as a full Professor in early 1968 stating in a hand-written letter that my 'gaddi was being dusted.' I therefore spent three months in the summer of 1968 at the Delhi School of Economics as Visiting Professor, before returning to Harvard with the intention of winding up and joining as Professor of Economics at the Delhi School.

But I did not realise then that the Left triumvirate of Sen, K N Raj and S Chakravarty had in the three months discovered that I was not only not ideologically neutral or soft like Jagdish Bhagwati, but hard anti-Left and wanted to dismantle the Soviet planning system in India besides producing the atom bomb.

So when I arrived in India in late 1969 this triumvirate scuttled my ascending the dusted gaddi. Sen was at his hypocritical best in explaining to me his volte face.

Samuelson was enraged when heard this and perhaps felt empathy because of his own experience in the late thirties at Harvard, and urged me to return. When I returned to Harvard to teach in the summer of 1971, Samuelson told me, "Stay here and write a treatise on Index Numbers and you will be worthy of a prize." But I was in a fighting mood and told him I would return.

Fortunately there was a professorship open at IIT-Delhi. Dr Manmohan Singh was the chairman of the selection committee. Samuelson with Kuznets, the 1971 Nobel Laureate in economics, wrote the committee strong letters of recommendation. Armed with it, Dr Singh did not wilt under the huge pressure mounted by the triumvirate and I was appointed a Professor of Economics in October 1971. But it did not last long.

The triumvirate then persuaded Indira Gandhi that I was a closet member of the RSS with chauvinist views, and a danger to her. With the KGB favourite Nurul Hasan as education minister, I was easily sacked in December 1972, but re-instated by court in 1991.


K.R.Srivarahan said...

Scholarliness and even Nobel prize do not provide immunity from petty-mindedness.

Anonymous said...


Kush said...

If K.R.Srivarahan's comment above refers to some of Swamy's more contentious views such as *that* DNA article, I urge him to the writings of Ambedkar, Tagore, Vivekananda on the subject of Islam and Hindu-Muslim tensions.