Ashok Mitra, Bengal’s first Left finance minister and champion of federalism, dies at 90
Ashok Mitra, the first Left Front finance minister of West Bengal, died on Tuesday morning at a private hospital in Kolkata. He was 90.
An alumnus of Benaras Hindu University, Mitra became the finance minister of Bengal after Jyoti Basu formed the first Left Front government in 1977. He served as the finance minister till 1987, when he resigned following differences with Basu.
Later Mitra also became a member of the Rajya Sabha. He also served as the country’s chief economic advisor from 1970 to 1972.
Mitra was always vocal backer of devolving more power to the states. He insisted that states should have more powers to raise taxes and provided the theoretical basis to Jyoti Basu’s campaign that the Centre was neglecting the states.
“Besides economics, his knowledge of Centre-state relations was vast. I remember that after he became the finance minister, Mitra asked me to script the annual state economic review, which I did for quite some time,” said Asim Dasgupta, who succeeded Mitra as the state’s finance minister.
A graduate of Dhaka University in undivided Bengal, Mitra obtained his postgraduate degree from Benaras Hindu University and doctorate from the University of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. He also served in the World Bank and United Nations.
Despite being a Marxist economist, Mitra was critical of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on several occasions. After the police firing in East Midnapore district’s Nandigram on March 14, 2007, where at least 14 persons were killed, he lashed out at the Buddhdeb Bhattacharjee government. “If I do not speak out now, my conscience will never pardon me,” Mitra had said.
After retirement from active politics, he remained in the public eye by writing several newspaper columns. In the late seventies, Mitra had famously told a bureaucrat, “I am a Communist, not a gentleman.” But in his writings, glimpses of both attributes were visible in ample measure.
He was also a recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award.
Mitra’s wife died in May 2008 at the age of 79. The couple was childless.
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