Economists make good politicians: Meghnad Desai (Interview)

May 21st, 2009 - 12:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, May 21 (IANS) Economists make good politicians and a person like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a ‘techno-pol’, has succeeded as he was able to implement many of his ideas that he thought were good for the country, feels economist, writer and member of the British House of the Lords Meghnad Desai.

“When Manmohan Singh joined the government in 1991, he was a ‘techno-pol’, whose expertise was needed to restructure the country’s economy. Over the years, he has been able to execute his ideas. Now he has matured into a seasoned politician. Economists generally make good politicians but they need a lot of support from the government,” Desai told IANS in an interview at his residence in the capital during his recent to visit to India to release his new book, “Dead on Time”, a thriller.

India has had a very good elections and the mature mandate reflects people’s faith in the ruling government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the economist said.

The mandate, according to Desai, will not have any impact on the ties between India and Britain because “the relationship between the two countries is bipartisan”.

“It does not make any difference which party is in power. I foresee more cooperation between trade, investment and issues pertaining to the Commonwealth,” Desai said.

India and Britain share very active trade, Desai said. “UK has a separate committee on India with Lord Karan Billimoria, me and Swaraj Paul as members. People are aware how much Britain needs India on the economic front,” the economist said.

Commenting on the role that Britain would like to play in solving regional conflicts in south Asia, he said, “Britain would like to interfere in Kashmir but the problem is that British diplomats do not understand a thing about Kashmir”.

“If Pakistan falls apart and the country goes to the Taliban, Kashmir would be hell. Britain does not understand it,” Desai said.

“But I personally believe that had Kashmir been a part of British India, it would have gone to Pakistan like the Muslim majority provinces like Sindh and Balochistan. Or may be, Jammu would have come to India and Kashmir would have gone to Pakistan. I was brought up to believe that India had no claim on Kashmir and human rights in the state had been grossly violated for the last 60 years,” the economist said.

It is a very prickly issue and any official comment on the state can cause a storm, Desai said. “Just look at the hungama (storm) British foreign secretary David Miliband caused with his comment (in an article in The Guardian) that India and Pakistan should should resolve the Kashmir (issue) to rein in the militants. India was so angry. I’d rather not make any official comment about it,” Desai said.

He preferred to switch to his writings, reading habits and favourite movies.

“I plan to write a serious book about the history of Indian cinema,” he said. Desai, who has written a book on the life of Bollywood thespian Dilip Kumar, has just finished reading a volume on Bimal Roy. “It is being brought out by his daughter Rinki Bhattacharya. This is Roy’s centenary year,” said the economist, who is a movie buff.

Desai’s favourite movies are “Andaz” starring Nargis, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, “Maltese Falcon” directed by John Houston and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”, by John Ford. “But my favourite stars are definitely Dilip Kumar and Marlon Brando,” he said with a laugh.

Desai reads five books in an average week. “I am currently reading a book on Europe by David Marsh and have just finished proofing a book on John Keynes (the economist). I think some Indian writers of non-fiction like Ram Guha and Ashish Nandy are very good,” he said.

As a child Desai read almost everything. “I was brought up in Baroda and then moved to Mumbai. I strengthened my English by reading the sports page of The Times of India. I snipped out the photographs of my favourite cricketers and followed football scores,” he recalled.

Who are his favourite British politicians? The question makes him nostalgic. “I miss my good friend John Smith of the Labour Party, who died 15 years ago of a heart attack. Had he been there, I would have been a minister now. But the London mayor Boris Johnson is a very colourful character,” Desai said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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