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From Kanhaiya Kumar to Kolkata Lectures, How Abhijit Banerjee Shaped Minds at JNU & Presidency

He organised a lecture series at the Presidency University, bringing along some of world’s finest economists to deliver lectures.

Sujit Nath | News18.com

Updated:October 15, 2019, 1:30 PM IST
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From Kanhaiya Kumar to Kolkata Lectures, How Abhijit Banerjee Shaped Minds at JNU & Presidency
Esther Duflo, left, and Abhijit Banerjee speak during a news conference at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass on October 14, 2019. (AP/PTI Photo)

Kolkata: Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee on Monday joined renowned economist Amartya Sen in the illustrious ranks of economics Nobel laureates from the Presidency University in Kolkata. Banerjee, his wife Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer won the 2019 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.

Sen, who had won the Nobel in economic sciences in 1998, is currently the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor at Harvard. He went to Presidency University in 1951 and holds a Bachelor's degree in economics.

As soon as the news of Banerjee’s feat reached the varsity, students and faculty staff burst into jubilation and celebrated the occasion by distributing sweets. During his Presidency days in the 80s, the economist was fondly called ‘Jhima’ by his friends, although no one quite remembers how he came to be known by this name.

Speaking to News18, Anuradha Lohia, vice-chancellor of the university, said, “What a proud moment for us as Presidency has now produced two Nobel laureates. I don’t have words to express the joy. Abhijit has been extremely instrumental in building the new university when we were transformed from a college to a university. He was one of the mentors of the mentor group. Apart from that he took personal interest in redesigning our syllabus. At Presidency, he was very popular for his lecture series which he instituted in the name of his father Dipak Banerjee – who was a renowned teacher of economics at the university.”

Lohia recalled how Banerjee organised ‘Dr Deepak Banerjee Memorial Lecture’ at the university in winters, bringing along with him some of world’s finest economists to deliver lectures.

“He was a very active member of our organising group when we were planning to celebrate our bicentenary in 2017. He was a speaker and wrote about the journey of Presidency. He also wrote extensively about our academic excellence from 1817. He is been a building block of our university. This time in December-January we are expecting him in Kolkata for the memorial lecture.”

Bishnupriya Dutta, Professor at School of Arts & Aesthetics in JNU and daughter of late veteran actor Utpal Dutt, was Banerjee’s junior in Presidency.

“He was my senior in Presidency in the 80s but we often hung out together in groups. He was a brilliant student and his father was an immensely popular as an economic teacher. Abhijit was a bit different from others in terms of his vision and thoughts. He even signed a mass petition during Kanhaiya Kumar issue. I am really feeling proud today.”

A college senior of the Nobel laureate, Tapati Guha Thakurta, who teaches history at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, said, “Every Indian should feel proud of him today. Abhijit was junior to me at Presidency. He is like my younger brother. Last year we met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to plan a project. His mother Nirmala Banerjee is also an excellent economist.”

After Presidency, Abhijit studied at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and then went on to study in Harvard University and received his Ph.D in 1988. He is currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 2003, he founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), along with Esther Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan, and remains one of the lab’s directors.

Banerjee is a past president of the Bureau for the Research in the Economic Analysis of Development, a Research Associate of the NBER, a CEPR research fellow, International Research Fellow of the Kiel Institute, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Econometric Society, and has been a Guggenheim Fellow and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow and a winner of the Infosys prize.

He is the author of a large number of articles and four books, including Poor Economics, which won the Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year. He is the editor of three more books and has directed two documentary films. He also served on the U.N. Secretary-General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

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