Remembering Dr. K.S. Krishnaswamy

It is important that in the midst of an elitist euphoria that “India is Shining”, it is not forgotten that governments in the country should realise fully their responsibility towards the poor and the socially deprived. Globalisation and privatisation cannot perform the tasks which only reformed governments can do to assist this section of the community. As Dr. Rao said more than twenty years ago, India will remain one of the poorest countries of the world in terms of the per capita product if governments focus all attention on minimising their role in economic and social engineering. To quote Dr. Rao “…there can be no satisfactory solution to India’s economic problem of growth with welfare and social justice, unless there is a restoration of the values and the norms that prevailed in the country by and large during the days of Gandhi and Nehru- i.e., through the struggle for independence and the initial period after achieving independence. “Where there is no vision, people perish”. I would add “Where the value system is in shambles and there is no attempt to restore ethical and social norms of conduct, there is no hope for the future of its people.” The upcoming generation I believe has the energy and ability to take the country forward. I earnestly hope it will do so.
From the ISEC Founder’s Day Lecture:

Dr. K.S. Krishnaswamy, former Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, passed away in Bangalore on Monday, 1st July 2013. He was 93. The words quoted above bring out very clearly two aspects of this remarkable mind: its analytical rigour, and the felicity of expression, so typical of this extraordinary economist.

Together with M.N. Srinivas, the social anthropologist, and V.K.R.V. Rao, the economist and institution builder, he was among the foremost intellectuals in the social sciences of Karnataka and India. That cohort was formidable; it included B.V. Krishnamurthy, P.R. Brahmananda, and N.S. Iyengar among others. In the wider professional world of economics, he worked with stalwarts I.G. Patel, a remarkable economist, who was Governor of the RBI when KSK was Deputy Governor. People like Dr. KSK are rare and it is well worth remembering them because it enriches all of us and sets an example for the young to emulate. For example, see this tribute by one who worked with him closely…

The idea of a centre like CBPS was in the air from 1995 onwards, and it took a few years to take shape. Dr. KSK was part of this ideation process.  Between 1998 and 2008, he was Chair of the Academic Council of CBPS. He regularly met our colleagues, read their reports, presided over a large number of meetings, and in his gentle, soft way, did a great deal to improve the quality of the reports and papers we prepared. The voice may have been low, but Dr. KSK always spoke his mind, He had a way of making what others would call scathing criticism appear as useful and needed feedback. CBPS owes a big debt of gratitude to Dr. KSK.

His last book, Windows of Opportunity, a kind of intellectual autobiography, was completed a few years earlier and CBPS is proud that he used our office facilities while writing this book, which was published by Orient Blackswan. He made important contributions in the field of agricultural credit, and played an important role in the establishment of NABARD. His discussion of the dilemmas he faced in the devaluation of the rupee in the 1960s brings out the core of ethical values that underlay all his work. I remember his telling of the pressures that he and fellow economist—and former EPW editor—Ravi Hazari faced in the Emergency years in the RBI.

His discussion of his childhood days brings to mind the charm of Malgudi.

He was one of the earliest Indian students to go study in the UK at the time of Independence where he worked under Sir Alec Cairncross – whose book I read as a student in Delhi many years later. In his years abroad he met, and interacted with, scholars of many nations, and from all he learned…and I am sure, to all he also gave something in return.

He returned to India and except for a stint as the Executive Director of the Economic Development Institute of the World Bank, worked in India since. He was one of a small group that included the likes of I.G. Patel, Arun Ghosh and K. N Raj that were associated with the start of the Planning Process in the Planning Commission in the 1950s. He then moved to the RBI. In all the positions he held, he served with a quiet distinction. All economic policy makers have a lot to learn from him on how to communicate with non-economists on economic matters. This he did  by keeping the analytic mind behind and using convincing, simple, clear language to interpret the assumptions, descriptions of the economic system and the logical conclusions emerging from all that. Over the years I certainly benefitted from his razor-sharp mind and crystal-clear prose.

Dr. KSK had a strong moral sense of what was right, and this permeated his economic reasoning. His work therefore encompassed issues of poverty – on which he edited a volume for the Sameeksha Trust; the unfashionable area of income distribution, and of course both planning models and monetary policy. After his retirement from the RBI and his shift to Bangalore, where he lived very simply with his wife Madura, he made important contributions to thinking on decentralisation, working closely with Ramakrishna Hegde and Abdul Nasir Sab. Along with L.C. Jain, he reviewed the functioning of that brief system in a report that is today hard to find. The insights he brought out have much relevance even today.

He was one of the founders of the Sameeksha Trust along with Sachin Choudhuri, K.N. Raj and others, first of the Economic Weekly, and then of the Economic and Political Weekly. He was active in the journal in many ways, from writing, encouraging others to write, and in his quiet way, in funding. He played an important part in the appointment of the current editor, Dr. Rammanohar Reddy, who is doing a superb job in running the EPW. For some years, he served as the Chairman of the Trust.

I was fortunate in a long association with Dr KSK. He knew my father who had worked with him in the Planning Commission in the 1950s. He had grown up in Kadur along with my mother-in-law, Kamakshmi, of whom he was very fond, and he knew my wife Poornima from birth. After his retirement from the RBI, and his return to Bangalore, we met often. I learned something from each meeting.

He has a quirky sense of humour. I recall an invitation one day for a drink. This was unusual, so I asked why. He twinkled: To celebrate 40 years of diabetes!

In his passing, I have lost a mentor; CBPS a generous friend, and the economics profession a keeper of our collective conscience. He was no believer in religion and ritual. But a gentle soul like him can only be in a better place.

                                                                             Vinod Vyasulu

[Disclaimer: Views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of CBPS.]

2 thoughts on “Remembering Dr. K.S. Krishnaswamy

  1. indira

    Deeply pained to hear the news. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have known him. I pray that the family has the strength to bear the loss.

  2. G.15,Ninth St.,Annanagar East Chennai,600102

    Next to Madras,Calcutta and Bombay Universities, Mysore has been the home of the Indian Economic Association (f.1917) and I was fortunate to be the Secretary of the IEA for three years during which Dr K S Krishanswamy was elected President in Bhuvabeswar in 1975. He presided in Mysore in 1976, where I took leave as secretary/Treasurer. For over two decades Dr P R Bramanandha, was de facto IEA’ He got elected in Mysore as President. The IEA misses both of them, when the history of research, teaching and publication in Economic Sciences by Indian Scholars will play a major role when IEA reaches the Centenary in 2017. The happy augury is the front page of The Economist,London, which carries the challenging photo of Narenda Modi Prime Minister of India with massing parliamentary mandate.
    His full page picture has one word: Strongman and a line below “How Modi can unleash India.” We miss the like of K S Krishnaswamy of Cambridge and Mysore.
    Let us hope RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan of Chicago and Chennai will be a match to the challenge of India as global economic engine. Banker of the world for centuries was Britain, in which the dictum was “Banker is seen and not heard”

    Hope Indian bankers read this in honour of Dr K S Krishnaswamy.

    It is time the world reads “The Collected Works of Dr KSK: Monetary Economist of India.”

    Professor Dr Vedagiri Shanmugasundaram, President,IEA (1979), Secretary/Tressurer,IEA(1973-76), Emeritus Professor,Madras University
    since 1987,senior Visiting Member,Linacre,Oxford University, CURRENTLY
    Editor,”The New Economist”,IASR Press,Chennai.600102.


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