Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - Calcutta to Delhi, via Moscow: The Soviet Union and Indian Planning

Friday, July 6
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Casuarina, Lower Ground Floor

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union exerted a powerful intellectual hold over India’s intelligentsia. Among the most important lines of influence was that of economic thought and practice. It was that intellectual bridge which led to independent India’s policy elite adopting Five Year Plans and a powerful Planning Commission in 1950, despite turning its back on Soviet political institutions.
Set in the 1950s and focusing on the figure of statistician-turned-economic planner P. C. Mahalanobis, this paper analyzes two ways in which the example and existence of the Soviet Union contributed to the practice of economic planning in India. First, it demonstrates how Mahalanobis’ trips to the Soviet Union and his role as host to Soviet academics at the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta emboldened his transition from Statistical Advisor to the Government to becoming the de-facto author of the Second Five Year Plan. These interactions provided him confidence in his views on the economy, gave him backing for specific techniques like ‘physical planning,’ and raised his national profile. Second, this paper also reveals the direct and indirect ways in which Mahalanobis’ relationship with the USSR impacted India’s access to computers—a technology it sought for the data requirements of centralized economic planning. It argues that, given the Cold War context, India’s ability to secure digital computers in the 1950s depended to a surprising degree on how Mahalanobis navigated superpower competition.

Nikhil Menon

University of Notre Dame, United States

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2 - Calcutta to Delhi, via Moscow: The Soviet Union and Indian Planning



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