Tributes pour in for Shaibal Gupta, his death a big loss to the state

“In the context of Bihar, where both the corporate sector and civil society are weak, the ‘state’ remains the most important institution,” observed the late economist and institution builder

Social scientist and economist Shaibal Gupta
Social scientist and economist Shaibal Gupta

Sankar Ray

“In the context of Bihar, where both the corporate sector and civil society are weak, the ‘state’ remains the most important institution. Many a times, hegemony over the state machinery becomes more important than a majority in the legislative assembly. Even as a legislative majority is a necessary precondition for forming government, it may not be a sufficient condition to run the government smoothly. For instance, though Lalu-Rabri ruled for 15 years between 1990 and 2005, their control over the state machinery was generally marginal, sometimes even non-existent. Over and above, under the Tenth and Eleventh Finance Commission transfers (between 1995 to 2005), a significant period of Lalu-Rabri rule, Bihar received Rs 12, 000 Crore less than the total quantum of projected transfers. This proved a major constraint in matters of governance”.

The above words, reflecting the ground reality of one of the most backward states of India were penned by Dr. Shaibal Gupta, an academic, a rare institution-builder and thinker of eastern India, especially Bihar, five years ago at a Seminar, when the mahagathbandhan government in Bihar – consisting of the RJD, JD(U) and Congress- was in power with Nitish Kumar as the chief minister of the state. He passed away after prolonged illness on 28 January. He was 67.

Thirty years ago, he set up the Asian Development Research Institute whose institutional identity is proven. Dr D.N. Diwakar of the A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies admitted that Shaibal Gupta was instrumental in elevating ADRI to’ great heights’ and fetched ‘international recognition. Institutes like the London School of Economics established a centre in ADRI”.

Gupta’s ‘ability to extend the reach of Bihar-centric institutions to global centres of excellence’, was admitted eloquently by N K Singh, chairman 15th Finance Commission, in his tribute. “I worked actively with him in forging a credible relationship with the London School of Economics. Shaibal’s active engagement with Robin Burgess, the co-director of the International Growth Centre at LSE, led him to establish the IGC’s footprint in Bihar. This was entirely his contribution. "

Gupta’s ingenuity in thinking was versatile. Although he was an economist by training, his spread beyond economics happened due to his ability to imbibe realities sociologically and historically. For instance, he contrasted Bihar to neighbouring Bengal (being a Bengali by birth). There, he wrote in a short note, “everyone seems able to recite Tagore’s poetry, if not claim competence in rendering Rabindrasangeet. It is widely believed that a girl’s prospects in the matrimonial market depends upon her ability to sing Tagore’s songs and, even if she hails from a privileged background, a failure on this front is seen as a disqualification. So ingrained is the world of Tagore in the psyche of the Bengali bhadralok that even chief ministers are rated on their ability to recite Rabindranath's poetry” (special issue on Bihar in ‘Seminar’ 2007).

There he bantered at ‘the shallowness of an urban culture’ as a curious oddity’, and its ‘ associated negative implications’ . Fragile cultural moorings contribute to an absence of regional identity, if not pride, critical if a region has to progress’, he observed, adding that in modern India, the development of an urban culture can either be traced to the older court culture of the princely states or to social movements like the Bengal renaissance’.

For top-rated journalists, Gupta was a coveted destination on politics, economics and culture of Bihar. Little wonder, Sankarshan Thakur, national affairs editor, The Telegraph daily, twitted, “Saddened beyond measure that Dr Shaibal Gupta of ADRI, Patna, has left us. A man of singular and tempered wisdom, Shaibalda was a warm friend and guide, never lost his humour or engagement through the battle he waged with illness. Such a loss for us, and Bihar. Farewell”

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, arguably India’s best-known journalist in unearthing corporate sector crimes and illegalities in their chase for minting super-profits said: “My deepest condolences to Shaibal’s family. Had the honour & privilege of knowing him for > 35 years. We shared a room on our first visit outside India to the US. He was generous and humble to a fault. What a sharp & astute political observer ! RIP Shaibal. You are free from pain.”.

Gupta, an active member of All India Student Federation, was groomed in a communist milieu. His father, a doctor, was one of the builders of undivided CPI in Begusarai during the Indian freedom struggle. He married Ushasi Sarkar, daughter of Jagannath Sarkar, Bihar state secretary of CPI. His maternal; uncle, Dr Ajit Sen, was CPI MLA from Patna for over a decade.

Under Gupta’s leadership, ADRI organized a six-day international conference in June 2018 entitled ‘Karl Marx –Life, Ideas, Influence: A Critical Examination on the Bicentenary. The papers were published in two volumes, one by Palgrave Macmillan of USA and the other by Aakar Books of India.

An academician, Gupta was indeed an integral part of Bihar’s finance ecosystem and his death has created a void which will be very difficult to fill.

(IPA Service)

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