“There was no doubt in my mind that Abhijit Banerjee would get the Nobel prize,” Professor Somak Raychaudhury, director of Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, who has had a long association with the Nobel Prize-winning economist said Monday.
An Indian-American, Abhijit Banerjee, along with Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer won the 2019 Nobel Prize for economics for their new approach to obtain reliable answers about the best ways to fight global poverty. In a tweet on Monday, Prof Raychaudhury wrote, “…it was (a) pleasure being Abhijit Banerjee’s contemporary at Presidency College, Kolkata, working together to build (the) Presidency University.”
Talking to The Indian Express, he later said, Banerjee was a kind of person who would have been at the top regardless of whichever subject he had taken. “If he would have taken physics, then Banerjee would have done Nobel Prize-worthy work (in the subject as well). Such was his competence,” Prof Raychaudhury said.
“One of the things which is a similar characteristic among all the economists, like Amartya Sen and others, who came out from the Presidency (College) economics group is they are very mathematical. For instance, Abhijit’s work is on mathematical models which he then uses to break up the concept of poverty and how it varies from country to country,” the IUCAA director said.
“It is interesting that how he (Banerjee) looks at economics is similar to the way we look at physics and astronomy — we have had lot of discussions of that sort — he is technically extremely competent in terms of the tools of science,” Prof Raychaudhury elaborated. Going down memory lane, the IUCAA director recalled the time when Banerjee and he were studying at Presidency College. “He was my senior and was studying economics, while I was studying physics. His father, the famous Prof Dipak Banerjee, taught economics and has mentored generations of economists.” He said even after college, their paths had crossed many times, especially at Harvard University.
“We are close friends and used to spend a lot of time in each other’s house. He has attended my wedding and I have been to his. In fact, whenever I am in Boston, I stay with him,” Prof Raychaudhury said. He recalled that professionally he returned to India to head the physics section and be the dean at Presidency College.
When there were plans to turn the 200-year-old Presidency College into a university, Banerjee was part of the mentor group that was headed by Amartya Sen (Indian economist, who was awarded the 1998 Nobel prize in economic sciences). Famous people from various subjects all over the world came together to mentor this University and Banerjee told me that he wanted me to be the head of physics group. “I came to India and we worked together for three years. I was dean of the University and he was part of the mentor group that played an important role in shaping the University into what it is now,” Prof Raychaudhury said.
Banerjee visits India at least two to three times in a year as his experiments on poverty are in Maharashtra and West Bengal, the IUCCA director said. He also visits his relatives in Pune and has visited IUCAA several times, Prof Raychaudhury said, adding that they have long conversations on various subjects. “The great thing about him is he can get into any conversation that can develop into wonderful interaction with people from various background as he sees these connections between subjects,” he said.