Marxist economist Ashok Mitra dead


Eminent Marxist economist Ashok Mitra, who served as Chief Economic Adviser during Indira Gandhi's prime ministerial tenure and as Finance Minister of West Bengal, passed away at a nursing home here on Tuesday following old age complications. He was 89.

The Sahitya Akademi awardee was a widower.

Mitra, who was minister in the state's Left Front government, was hospitalised for almost a month with complaints of diarrhoea and later developed respiratory problems. He passed away at 9.15 a.m.

Rated as a brilliant scholar, Mitra chaired the Agricultural Prices Commission for four years from 1968 and served as Chief Economic Adviser to the Central government between 1970 and 1972.

After the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Front came to power in West Bengal in 1977, Mitra was one of the first five ministers to be sworn in alongside Chief Minister Jyoti Basu after he won the Assembly polls from Rashbehari.

Handed the Finance portfolio, Mitra vigorously sought more powers for the states. He campaigned countrywide on the issue, playing a good part in forcing the Central government to set up the Sarkaria Commission that examined the relationship and balance of power between state and the Centre and suggested changes within the framework of the Indian Constitution.

Mitra lost the election in 1982, but was brought back to the Cabinet after he won the bypolls from Jadavpur.

However, he developed differences with the Chief Minister and CPI-M topguns on the matter of restructuring payscales for principals of state government-aided colleges, and resigned in 1986.

In 1991, Mitra volunteered to contest from the Chowringhee Assembly constituency against Congress candidate and former West Bengal Chief Minister Siddhartha Ray, whom he had often berated for his "semi-fascist rule" in the state in the 1970s. Mitra campaigned hard, but lost.

In the mid-1990s, the CPI-M made him a member of the Rajya Sabha, where he served as Chairman of the Parliament's Standing Committee on Industry and Commerce.

Born in Dhaka in 1928, Mitra did his graduation from the University of Dacca and post-graduation in economics from Benaras Hindu University.

He also studied in the Delhi School of Economics in the early 1950s.

As an academician, he taught Economics at the University of Lucknow before proceeding to the Netherlands, where Mitra got his doctorate in 1953 from University of Rotterdam (now The Netherlands School of Economics) under Jan Tinbergen (who later won the Nobel Prize). His doctoral thesis was titled "Share of Wages in National Income".

He also worked with the National Council of Applied Economic Research and briefly served as Officer on Special Duty in the Ministry of Finance.

Mitra had a stint with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific at Bangkok and in 1961, joined as a teacher at Economic Development Institute in Washington.

On his return to India, Mitra became a professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (IIM-C).

A prolific writer in both English and Bengali, Mitra penned regular newspaper columns, and even reported on the 1996 cricket World Cup for The Telegraph.

In 1996, his collection of Bengali essays "Tal Betal" won the Sahitya Akademi award.

Mitra's repertory of Bengali books include "Okhatha-Kukatha", "Ochenake Chine-Chine", "Kabita Theke Michhila, "Nastikatar Baire", "Charitrabali", "Tal-Betal" and the much-acclaimed memoir Apila Chapila.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee condoled Mitra's death.

"Saddened at the passing away of noted economist, former Finance Minister of Bengal and former Rajya Sabha MP, Dr Ashok Mitra. He had a long career with the World Bank, IIM Calcutta and as Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India. Condolences to his family & well wishers," she said in a tweet.