ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Calcutta Diary

Pitambar Pant was a proud man, but this pride was an echo of his pride in the nation and of the confidence he felt in the nation's ability to chart out a course of independent economic development under the auspices of the state. Did not this confidence have firm empirical roots? Or is it that relativity is all, the hard datum of the late 50s is worth nothing 40-odd years later? If only he were around, one could debate the issue with him. He was a great one for debates, the life-blood of a democratic polity.

The fading of memory is an inexorable process. It is almost three decades since Pitambar Pant passed away. The new generation of economists, statisticians and left-over planners might have come across his name in hesitant footnotes of remote texts. He has no contemporary relevance. It is not just that his enthusiasm for integrated and coordinated economic planning will at present be considered hopelessly obsolete. Even the economics which subsumed the format of planning held dear by him has gone into disuse, and his obsession for data, Indian data, is bound to be treated with derision by current researchers. Data, particularly past data pertaining to the economy, it will be sermonised, have ceased to have much relevance in a globalised system. The data that are of significance are those from overseas, the technical coefficients have to be garnered henceforth with reference to happenings taking place overseas. We must get over our fascination for a mass of old, hackneyed statistics concerning Indian phenomena; only foreign data, and coefficients based on such data, are lodestars for competent economic performance.

Pitambar Pant would have been without a profession in this milieu. He had at his finger-tips whatever data were of significance to, and were culled from, the Indian economy. His favourite expression was: ‘Baba, hamse puchho’, please do not flounder around, do not commit howlers while opening your mouth, just check with Pitambar, he would tell you what figures are right and what are wrong. He had no professional grounding as such in economics; even his knowledge of statistics he probably picked late in his academic days, when, after his release from prison, where he was detained for participation in the Quit India Movement, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to P C Mahalanobis and sent Pitambar down to the Indian Statistical Institute of Calcutta. Pitambar was a quick learner and had an uncanny ability to sift wheat from chaff. He learnt whatever economics he felt was worth learning from eavesdropping into the small talk by visiting academic dignitaries at the ISI. By the time he was picked, in the early 1950s, to be private secretary to the chairman of the Planning Commission, meaning Nehru, he was a well rounded product and could hold his own against the Johnnys, mostly supernumerary characters, who made up the corpus of the Commission. His rapport with Mahalanobis had deepened as had his closeness to Nehru. In embarking on exercises pertaining to Indian planning, Pitambar’s first act was to plan an entente with Mahalanobis.

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