Punjab Research Group

G S Bhalla: A Tribute

Posted in News/Information by Pippa on November 12, 2013

Pritam Singh’s tribute to G S Bhalla who recently passed away. Link to original letter in EPW: http://www.epw.in/letters/prof-g-s-bhalla.html

R Radhakrishna’s tribute to G S Bhalla (EPW, 19 October 2013) has rightly highlighted the contributions of G S Bhalla to agricultural economics and regional development in India. As a former student of his at Panjab University (PU), Chandigarh, I want to mention a few of his contributions to radical political culture in Punjab.

It was only a few months of G S Bhalla and Sheila Bhalla’s joining the economics department at PU that we, a group of left­wing students in the university sympathetic to Maoism then, became aware of Bhallas’ silent encouragement to us. We organised a condolence meeting to pay homage to Ho Chi Minh and the only faculty members who joined this meeting were the Bhallas. We soon came to know that Bhalla was sympathetic to the Communist Party of India but not even once did he criticise any left-wing activity we students undertook. There was an unsaid understanding between us that since the left in general was weak in the university, we needed to support each other irrespective of the differences between us. Bhalla followed this non-sectarian approach throughout his life.

The management of PU has, for a very long time, been controlled by right-wing groups supported both by the Congress and the Jan Sangh, and later Bharatiya Janata Party. Three left-wing teachers who took the bold and far-sighted step of challenging this dominance were G S Bhalla, Dharam Vir of the chemical engineering department (a man of remarkable intellect and moral stature who was a lifelong friend of Bhalla and died almost within a month of G S Bhalla’s death) and Gurbaksh Singh Soch of the English department (who died young, about 20 years ago). They built up Panjab University Teachers’ Association (PUTA) into an organisation of significance in the governance of PU. Bhalla challenged and defeated a heavy weight pro-Congress faculty member V N Tiwari to the office of president of PUTA. Many left-wing teachers later became presidents of PUTA but the foundation of that left-wing organisational ascendancy was laid by Bhalla and Vir.

G S Bhalla’s contribution to radicalising research orientation in economic studies on Punjab is immense. It would not be an exaggeration to say that almost all the left-leaning economists that Punjab has produced in the last few decades were students of Bhalla in one way or another. He was justifiably proud of this legacy too.

Pritam Singh, Moscow State University

For R Radhakrishna’s tribute in EPW: http://www.epw.in/commentary/g-s-bhalla-tribute.html

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