Professor Abhijit Banerjee, the winner of the Nobel Prize in economics in 2019, was born in Dhule, India, to Nirmala Banerjee, professor of economics at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, and Dipak Banerjee, professor and Head of the Department of Economics at Presidency College, Kolkata. Dipak Banerjee, or DB as he was known to his students, enjoyed a cult status amongst those he taught.
He attended South Point School and Presidency College, Calcutta, where he completed his B.Sc. degree in economics in 1981. Later, he completed his M.A. in economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi in 1983. Later, he went on to obtain a PhD in Economics at Harvard University in 1988. The subject of his doctoral thesis was "Essays in Information Economics." He was taught by Dr Amartya Sen amongst others.
Banerjee is currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after he had taught at Harvard University and Princeton University.
The Congress had consulted Banerjee amongst several other top economists before zeroing on its NYAY scheme that was included in the party’s 2019 election manifesto.
Banerjee had also spoken out in favour of leaving JNU students alone when the party in power and its sycophants in the media and IT Cell had carried out a vilifying campaign against students of the university, calling them ‘traitors’, ‘anti-nationals’ and members of ‘tukde tukde gang’ and whatnot. In an article titled ‘We need thinking spaces like JNU and the govt must stay out of it’, he wrote:
“…universities, and civil society more generally, are so important for a democracy like ours, founded on a genuine idealism that we have a hard time holding on to. They provide a space to question whatever we are doing in the name of things we say we believe in or might believe in. It’s a space where we can say things we half believe in, or even disbelieve, to provoke a reaction that might teach us what we really believe. Students often say things that they will one day change their minds about, but also things that change our minds when we think about them. We need the space. Please stay out.”
In a rare public appeal on a highly technical subject, 108 economics and social science professors from top US and Indian universities wrote that India’s statistical machinery had “come under a cloud for being influenced and indeed even controlled by political considerations”. Banerjee was one of the signatories of the statement signed dated March 15, 2019.
“Any statistics that cast an iota of doubt on the achievement of the government seem to get revised or suppressed on the basis of some questionable methodology,” the statement wrote.
The Internet was abuzz with curious reactions considering his alma maters Presidency College and JNU, and mentor Amartya Sen have been the favourite punching bags of the right-wing Hindutva forces in India.