A few days back, the Stein auditorium at New Delhi's India Habitat Centre was packed with the who's who on the occasion of the launch of International Center for Human Development (IC4HD), a think-tank organization with a partnership between the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (Simla) and UNDP. The key attraction was the inaugural lecture by Nobel laureate Professor Amartaya Sen. It was another issue that 'nobelness' comes with a baggage, and hence Prof. Sen had to appear on the stage with a team inclusive of a cabinet minister Jairam Ramesh, bureaucrat Ajay Chhibber, and a champion of colonial legacy Lord Meghnad Desai.
All appeared fine - till, after the performance of rituals, including the stale lecture as well as unpalatably harmonious question-answer session, the suave individual sitting next to me exclaimed - the cult of Nobel Laureate! I gave back an intrigued look, and he could not resist - they are causing a severe under-development of the human development discourse in India!
Before I could figure out as to who was this disgruntled gentleman, he went on in a berserk mode, “They have been pouting mathematical devices likehuman development index-devices, which do not fit their philosophic-theoretical framework, and the whole world
has been appealed to follow them, instead of debating them; and if such devices come from somebody with a Nobel prize, it would obviously get a cult following.”
On a little digging, I discovered that the gentleman was a sociologist. It is interesting to note that sociologists, all over the world, have been in rivalry with economists in contributing to formulate governmental and non-governmental policies. Like Homo Economicus, the sociologists carved out Homo Sociologicus; sociologists matched in the quantitative and statistical jugglery with their brethren in the Economics camp.
Yet, sociologists always stood only next to Economists. Indeed, it is disheartening, given the mindless aping and severe intellectual compromise that sociologists have made. They also sound statistical figures as sacred and solemn, they also reduce human reality into jargons and catchy formulations, they also tend to be politically correct. But none of them have received a Nobel or an Oscar! Plus, in the business
of doing consultancy and running money-minting research projects, sociologists are still lower than Economists. I fully empathize the anguish of my fellow sociologist in the audience.
However, in between sociologists and economists, the idea of human development is a compromise. It is not guaranteed that the IC4HD will be a shared pie for sociologists and economists; but one fact was obvious that evening - that the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) will perhaps be only a hill-home provider/tourist guide as a partner in collaborative policy formulations.
The publications (brochure and invitation card) as well as the inaugural event had little of IIAS to be reckoned, except by way of giving away of gifts and thanks by the director of IIAS Prof. Peter deSouza. Should we say that IC4HD is not founded upon the idea of debating and questioning? That it is rather to take the propositions of Prof. Amartaya Sen and anybody else who has been a blue-eyed boy for international agencies, as axiomatic truth?
While this realization surfaced in the hushed away corner during the lavish high tea, bright and bubbly young development professionals from international agencies and national NGOs were busy taking autographs of Prof. Sen and Lord Meghnad Desai - and perhaps promising them: we will be the best users of your numerical formulations in judging human development!