Adiseshiah: visionary with holistic views on education, economy, growth



As MIDS turns 50, founder Malcolm S Adiseshiah’s collection of articles captures his groundbreaking, society-changing ideas on a range of topics

A total of 19 translated articles written by Malcolm S Adiseshiah and published between August 1986 and January 1990 were published as a book in Tamil, titled Indhiya Porulaadhaaram: Varalaaru Kaattum Vazhigal (“Indian Economy: The Way Made By History”) .

In his Independence Day address to the nation this year from the ramparts of Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his government would soon launch a major infrastructure plan called “Gati Shakti”, to boost the economy. . The project, worth 100 lakh-crore, seeks to develop a “holistic infrastructure”.

But holistic infrastructure for that is the question. It is also unclear what type of manufacturing and infrastructure will be developed.

Types of choices

In this context, it is worth recalling the words of the famous economist and educator Malcolm S Adiseshiah. The country and its ruling elites face a clear choice that no language can confuse and which calls for national and individual political decision, he said.


“The choice to be made is between a society that continues within the current basic structure, resulting in increased production, greater accumulation of capital and an improvement in the condition of the poor majority on the one hand, and a society that takes the ‘economic inequality, amounting to social inequality, head on, and take the difficult but necessary decisions to move towards a less unequal social order in accordance with the constitutional provisions of equality of all citizens of the country, on the other hand Adiseshiah wrote.

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This was in response to the question, “What would the Indian economy look like on August 15, 2001?” “. He wrote these thoughts on August 15, 1986, in an article titled “The Date and the Choice Between This and That”. And, in 35 years, we have not yet decided on the choice.

This is one of many articles written in English by Adiseshiah and published in the Yojana magazine. These articles have also been translated and reproduced in the Tamil version of the magazine, Thittam. A total of 19 translated articles published between August 1986 and January 1990 were selected and now published as a book in Tamil, titled Indhiya Porulaadhaaram: Varalaaru Kaattum Vazhigal (“Indian economy: the path traced by history”).

Wide range of topics

The book was published to commemorate the Golden Jubilee year of the establishment of the Madras Institute for Development Studies (MIDS). The Institute was founded by Malcolm S Adiseshiah and Elizabeth Adiseshiah in January 1971, shortly after the former retired as Deputy Director-General of UNESCO.

The articles in the book cover a wide range of topics such as the economy, employment and labor well-being, poverty eradication and education, in addition to some commentary on NGOs, secularism and population.

“Adiseshiah wrote numerous articles in Yojana between 1980 and 1994. It was the time when the sixth, seventh and eighth five-year plans were implemented, ”recalled A Arivazhagan, publication assistant, MIDS, who edited the book. “During these times, two of our former prime ministers were killed and there was no political stability. However, many expected India to be on the world stage after 15 years, that is, in 2000. Adiseshiah, without any political bias, assessed the merits and the downsides of each five-year plan. and wrote the articles.

The ‘MIDS Bulletin’ edited by Adiseshiah had a special place among candidates for UPSC exams, Arivazhagan added.

Contribution to education

Born in the district of Vellore as the second son of Varanasi Paul Adiseshiah and Grace Nesamma on April 18, 1910, Malcolm Adiseshiah was an alumnus of the London School of Economics, where he did his doctorate.

He has taught at institutions such as St Paul’s College in Kolkata and Madras Christian College in Chennai, and was vice-chancellor of Madras University. He has also held official positions in various organizations such as the World University Service Center, UNESCO and the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission. It was during his tenure at UNESCO that the magazine UNESCO Courier has been published in Tamil and Hindi. He played a decisive role in relaying educational programs through television.

“During his tenure as Vice Chancellor, Adiseshiah established postgraduate higher education centers in Coimbatore and Tiruchi. These were later converted into Bharathiar University and Bharathidasan University, respectively. He decentralized power in order to prevent corruption and, to create uniform development, he disseminated education, ”Arivazhagan said. He added that Adiseshiah was a visionary in the sense that he divided school education, technical education and university education, and made them work separately.

According to SS educator Rajagopalan, it was Adiseshiah’s efforts that paved the way for college teachers to pursue doctoral studies with paid leave.

In January 1971, Adiseshiah founded MIDS and, 50 years later, it is one of the most renowned research institutes in the country.

Writing on Adiseshiah’s contribution to education, famous sports administrator Eric Prabhakar said that many generations of thinkers before him had not specifically addressed the impact of education on issues of poverty, deprivation and of inequality.

“For Plato, education was provided for the elite to perpetuate the status quo through selection and stratification. For Rousseau, education was necessary to fortify man against corrupt social institutions. In totalitarian societies, the aim of education was to retain the central party. In capitalist countries, education has been given to perpetuate a particular range of values, attitudes and beliefs for an open society. It was Adiseshiah the economist who said that education has a role beyond these limited parameters, as a crucial public service for poverty eradication and for socio-economic growth, ”said Prabhakar .

Thoughts on the Indian economy

According to Adiseshiah, one of the important characteristics of the Indian economy was that for 35 of the 40 years since independence, it had followed the “well-planned” path, that is, the five-year plans. One of the main developments in these 40 years is that the nation has moved from an economy dependent on abroad to a self-sustaining economy.

At a time when the unorganized sector is going through a difficult time due to the COVID pandemic, Adiseshiah’s thoughts – on how the scope of the term ‘unorganized work’ continues to expand – are of particular importance .

“It is sometimes used to refer to workers employed in organized and unorganized sectors of the economy; or the area involving workers in traditional sectors versus modern sectors of the economy; or the dichotomy between workers in the capitalist or subsistence sectors of the economy; or the sector that protects workers from those who leave its workers unprotected; or the distinction made between workers employed regularly (full time all year round) and casual workers; or the distinction between labor employed in large enterprises and labor employed in small, village or tiny units; and finally more recently and more and more to workers in what are called formal or informal markets, ”he wrote.

As an economist, Adiseshiah worried about declining investment in agriculture. The use of the word “black economy” angered him – he saw this as a racial insult and believed that “the black economy” was one of the reasons for poverty. He believed that people who have black money should be sentenced to life imprisonment and proposed that by implementing the land cap law both in letter and in spirit , the country can eradicate poverty to some extent.

Further, Adiseshiah asserted that India is not a development economy but an economy which develops the section of people with purchasing power. His advice was that when calculating development, economists should not only focus on who grew up, but also what grew up. He warned against centralizing education through the new education policy and was convinced that NGOs can play a vital role in research. benami surplus land and distribute it to the poor.

Unparalleled contribution

Adiseshiah was appointed a member of the National Planning Commission in 1971. Economist and author S Neelakantan, who worked closely with Adiseshiah, said his contribution to the Commission was unprecedented.

“During his mandate, and even after his mandate, until his death in 1994, he alone made a semi-annual review of the schemes and projects launched through the Planning Commission. Then, the work of producing the journal was entrusted to an institute in Mumbai. They did it for three years and after that they gave up. It shows how passionate Adiseshiah was in every task he took on, ”said Neelakantan.

Tamil Nadu recently launched a program called ‘Illam Thedi Kalvi ‘ (“Education at the door”). A predecessor was the adult education program launched by Adisheshiah decades ago, through which many of the state’s elders learned basic reading, writing and arithmetic, Neelakantan added.



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