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Few understood Bihar better than social scientist Shaibal Gupta

Meeting Shaibal Gupta was indispensable for any journalist on assignment to Bihar. Be it the state’s assembly election, its political economy or its industrial sector, the social scientist was a one-stop storehouse of knowledge, his perspective much sought-after. Gupta, who passed away on Thursday after prolonged illness in Patna, belonged to that rare breed of academics who could offer both information and insight. He was 67.

Few understood Bihar better than him. The state was his karmabhoomi. A PhD in economics from Patna University, his in-depth understanding of the eastern state coupled with his pro-poor sensibilities was much appreciated by the state’s political class. His ideas shaped policies. His suggestions were valued by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar who admitted that the scholar’s demise was a “personal” loss. Tributes came from leaders of every spectrum ranging from BJP to CPI/CPM, which underline his reach, irrespective of ideological differences.

Gupta was an institution builder. As its member-secretary for many years, he shaped Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) into an institution of world repute. Papers and books published by ADRI show academic rigour and calibre. Gupta wrote both for academic journals and newspapers. Many would wait eagerly for his prognosis of Bihar polls. He co-edited, Probings and Re-probings: Essays in Marxian Reawakening, with Sankar Ray, and Resurrection of the state, a saga of Bihar: Essays in memory of Papiya Ghosh, with Sunita Lal. He also harnessed and mentored a fine bunch of researchers and academics at ADRI. Anyone who ever interacted with him would admit that he was generous and giving to a fault.

Gupta was an exceptional organiser. ADRI’s celebration of Karl Marx’s bicentenary converted Patna into a Marx-imum city in the summer of 2018. A galaxy of social scientists and philosophers came for one of the most well-organised seminars that I have ever attended. Among those who participated were Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Meghnad Desai, Giulietto Chiesa, Tian Yu Cao, Kipton Jensen, Jan Toporowski, Andrew J Douglas, Samir Amin, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and many more.

He wasn’t in the pink of health then. Serious ailments kept troubling him. Now he is gone. Condolence messages often carry the line: The void left behind by him would be hard to fill. In Shaibal Gupta’s case, it is absolutely true.

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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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