Krishna Bharadwaj: The Ideal Economist

Krishna Bharadwaj is an economist who made lasting contributions to economic theory. She is especially known for her understanding of the classical theories of value and distribution. In particular, she has successfully traced out the history of classical as well as neoclassical economics. This kind of conceptual history writing is important, especially for the economist who wants to apply these theories in understanding the socio-economic reality. And because of her firm grasp of various theoretical approaches in economics, she was able to judiciously analyse problems of the Indian economy. She was, in fact, the first economist to point out the exploitative nature of inter-linked markets which are prevalent in Indian agriculture. She also placed emphasis on the power relations which dominated the production structure of agriculture in India.

Apart from struggling to show the distinct and superior nature of classical economics over neoclassical economics, Bharadwaj also relentlessly worked on Indian economic issues. In particular, Bharadwaj analysed the structural linkages between agriculture and industry in India and also examined the production conditions which characterise Indian agriculture. In her latter study, she pointed out the inadequacies of neoclassical economics in understanding Indian agriculture. She particularly criticised the application of production functions. In addition, Bharadwaj explained the origin of neoclassical economics and how it suffers from various logical as well as other methodological issues.

For Bharadwaj, theory was only a tool to understand the questions and problems which arose from the social reality. This is why, she promoted the teaching of different economic approaches in Centre for Economic Studies and Planning (CESP) at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), such as classical, Marxian, Keynesian as well as Walrasian. As Prabhat Patnaik writes in a foreword of The Krishna Bharadwaj Memorial Lecture, ‘according to her [Bharadwaj]…we had to evolve a research-cum-teaching agenda of our own. No centre in India could flourish, by international standrads, merely by mimicking what was happening abroad, merely by showing proficiency in solving problems which were posed abroad. The problems has to be rooted in the social reality of our own country, and the effort to grapple with them had to be, very consciously, located within the intellectual endeavour of our country…[However] Her emphasis on taking up problems rooted in the Indian social reality was not a plea for turning one’s back upon theory or theoretical struggles. On the contrary, her plea for investigating our real problems, was simultaneously a plea for a richer theory, a theory with a body to it, one which is all the more powerful because it has been used for investigating real problems facing economies like ours.’

From her work on economic theory and its applications to the Indian economy, what becomes clear is her philosophy that economic theory should be based on concepts which can be observed and be amenable to measurement in reality. This is one of the reasons why she criticised the demand and supply theories; for, values were determined by subjective utilities. Another quality worth mentioning is her firm belief that economic theories are not mere intellectual constructs; rather, they arise out of a particular socio-historical situation, often to promote a certain ideology. In her R C Dutt Lecture, which was later published as a book in 1986, she makes it clear that the emergence of demand and supply theories were primarily a reaction against Ricardo and Marx. For, in both Ricardo and Marx, a conflict of interest is visible between social classes. In order to promote the ‘idea’ of a just and harmonius system, the theories (especially the labour theory of value) of Ricardo and Marx were criticised as being limited, and an alternative was proposed. This new theory completely did away with social classes. Individuals were chosen as the primary unit of analysis. Social classes, actually was modified into ‘factors of production’. A very interesting and important methodological shift, with powerful political implications! All the factors of production were assigned equal importance, and it was also shown how both labour and capital recieved incomes according to their contribution to the production process. That is, a capitalist system, with free mobility of labour and capital and with clear property rights (contracts), is essentially a just and stable system.

To conclude, the following are the reasons why Krishna Bharadwaj is an ideal economist. (1) She had an in-depth understanding of the various theoretical approaches in economics, be it, Marxian, Classical, Neoclassical, Austrian or Keynesian. (2) She did not blindly apply these theories (mainly Classical and Marxian) to understand the Indian economy; instead, her inquiry was based on extensive empirical observations, which made the theory richer. (3) She considered it very necessary to understand the history of economic theory, especially because of the historical specificity of all theories. Also because, most theories are responses to certain socio-political events or interests. (4) Lastly, she applied all her experience in setting up a new centre, which paid close attention to both economic theory and its application to the Indian economy, in close connection with other disciplines.


Bhaduri, Amit (1992), Krishna Bharadwaj, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 27, No. 10/11 (Mar. 7-14, 1992), p. 490.

Bharadwaj, Krishna (1963), ‘Value Through Exogenous Distribution’, The Economic Weekly, August 1964.

Bharadwaj, Krishna (1986), Classical Political Economy and the Rise to Dominance of Supply and Demand Theories, Calcutta: Universities Press.

Harcourt, G C (1993-94), ‘Krishna Bharadwaj, August 21, 1935 – March 8, 1992: A Memoir’, Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Winter, 1993-1994), pp. 299-311.

Patnaik, Utsa (1991), ‘Krishna Bharadwaj: 21 August 1935 – 8 March 1992,’ Social Scientist, Vol. 19, No. 12. (Dec., 1991), pp. 63-67.

Patnaik, Prabhat (1996), Foreword, in Time as a Metaphor of History: Early India, by Romila Thapar, The Krishna Bharadwaj Memorial Lecture, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Roncaglia, Alessandro (1993), ‘Krishna Bharadwaj, 1935-1992. In Memoriam’, Metroeconomica, Vol. 44, No. 3, pp. 187-194.

Author: Alex M Thomas

A passionate student of economics!

9 thoughts on “Krishna Bharadwaj: The Ideal Economist”

  1. hi.
    i am anusuya singh daughter of sudha bhardwaj ..krishna bhardwaj is my grand maa and i miss her.. i wanted to know about her all books

  2. Dear Anusuya, Today only I told the clever answer (to a Mathematics Professor when he sent me his speech at his 70th birthday felicitation International conference, given by that contained a similar point)given by your mom, to a question asked by a philosopher educationist-Sudha, How do you know you exist ? (when she was around 10, I think). Then I decided to look for more on your grandma and also hoping that I would perhaps find more about your mom. And my hope turned out to be right when I found this response posted by you. Your mom was my student for a short time and as you can see, I think of her fondly. We used to play with her at Cambridge too. I remember your grandma as a very affectionate person and a great scholar. I respected her in heart of my hearts. With love and best wishes to you and your mom, Ajit Iqbal Singh

  3. hello sir, thank you so much for this… i heard ur name somewhere. i think in JNU.. i can’t say any think because i am very happy, thank you thank you so much for answering my questions.. plz give me new updates … n i tell mum about this i know she is happy to hear this comment by you…
    thank you for the wishes…
    anusuya singh…

  4. Dear Anusuya, I was at JNU the whole week attending a very good international conference. You can call me Ajit Aunty and to help your mom recall good old things you can find my image in google and show her. You both are welcome to come and see me. Love and best wishes, Ajit Iqbal Singh

  5. I made a facebook post on Krishna Bharadwaj today, following her daughter Sudha Bharadwaj’s arrest yesterday. I know very little on her and would love to read and know more about her.

    This is my post ‘The purpose of this post of mine is two fold. Firstly this is a mark of tribute to an outstanding intellectual in a time when not only her daughter but intellectual critical thought and freedom of expression are under threat. Secondly to remember an illustrious economist who contributed deeply and largely to the teaching and research of economic growth when the present government’s drastic and a sudden wrong economic decision turned out to be a massive failure though there are various false attempts to prove that it was a success.

    Krishna Bharadwaj, was a Neo-Ricardian economist mainly known for her contributions to the economic development theory and the revival of the ideas of classical economics. She was born into a Kannada family among school teacher parents where critical thought was highly encouraged. She pursued her PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T) and edited the collected papers of Marxist economist Pierro Sraffa, her mentor at the University of Cambridge, England.

    After spending more than fifteen years in international academia (in both sides of the Atlantic), she returned to India (her daughter who was born in US gave up her US citizenship) and joined Center for International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University as a professor. She promoted the teaching of different economic approaches at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning of the same university. She contributed to numerous journals and forums and is widely considered as a leading light among development economists.

    Sudha Bharadwaj, an IIT (Kanpur) alumni, an ardent human rights activist and a professor of law and a prominent voice of dissent who is now under house arrest on Bhima Koregaon case is her daughter.

    This post is made to focus that we are living under the most ANTI INTELLECTUAL POLITICAL REGIME under which everything that is good within us is under severe loss.’

  6. Disrespect to knowledge producers, the brahmins of society, is a sign of autocracy. Solutions can come only from investigation. A politics which throttles knowledge seeker will choke one day from its own actions.
    A sad state of affairs. A mess, like DeMo and GST..

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