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Ajit, the real Don

Cambridge professor says Indian economy is finding momentum, reports Veenu Sandhu.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2006 02:53 IST

Born in Lahore, brought up in Amritsar and Chandigarh, educated at Panjab University and the University of California, Berkeley, and now teaching economics at Cambridge University. Professor Ajit Singh is a man familiar with change.

The last 40 years that he has been teaching economics at Cambridge — a profession he is passionate about – have also seen him play several other roles. For one, Prof. Singh has also been a senior economic adviser to the governments of Mexico and Tanzania. And a consultant to various UN developmental organisations, including the World Bank, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

He is also the author of several books, among them Takeovers: Their Relevance to the Stockmarket, the Theory of the Firm and Global Economic Trends and Social Development. Excerpts from an interview:

The future of Indian economy

Very bright. Indian enterprise is finally finding its own momentum. There are huge problems of poverty and deprivation, but if the country is able to sustain and renew its institutions of democracy and is able to ensure that the fruits of economic progress are widely shared, India should be able to claim its rightful place in the world economy proportionate to the size of its population. In terms of absolute size, India could certainly become an economic superpower, but its per capita income will still be a fraction of the US per capita income.

Life post 9/11 and 7/7

In the academic world, I have not come across any sustained discrimination, either by colleagues or students. I never felt at a disadvantage as a Sikh. My colleagues and students showed respect for my beliefs and my way of life as I did for theirs. I am however, aware that the academic world is not the whole world. There has been widespread discrimination against Sikhs and Indians in a number of professions. Incidents like 9/11 and 7/7 tend to put the clock back. It is against these handicaps that one needs to appreciate the work of so many Indians who have emerged into the mainstream of these societies, in the process changing both themselves and the host communities.

On looking homewards

I can envisage circumstances where I may think of returning to India for good. But I have long learnt that as an economist, one is much more influential offering advice from abroad than “playing” as an economist in India! But I do miss the cultural autonomy of the Indian people, with their insistence on continuing with their own way of life despite all the pressures of globalisation and homogenisation.

Email Veenu Sandhu: vsandhu@hindustantimes.com