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Manu Shroff: A tribute to last of the champions of liberalism
Shreekant Sambrani
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January 30, 2007

It is hard to imagine that even in the era of planned and controlled "development" of India, there were a few true-blue champions of economic liberalism who were part of the Indian economic bureaucracy.

Manu Shroff, who passed away at 76, was one of these gems, as was his great good friend, the late Dr I G Patel. Manu asserted his views without fear or favour, as advisor to the Planning Commission, Banking Secretary, member of the Finance Commission, and, of course, as editor of the Economic Times (1984-89).

He was very much a part of the Gujarati School of Economics, with illustrious members such as Dr D T Lakdawala, Dr Patel, Dr Jagdish Bhagwati, among others.

He went on to become the President of Gujarat Economic Association, but otherwise received far fewer honours than he deserved. I remarked to him that at the Economic Times function last year to observe the fifteenth anniversary of the current phase of liberalism, his friend the prime minister painstakingly mentioned by name many economists who had contributed to policy making, which list somehow did not include either Dr Patel or him. 

He had a hearty laugh and said all that was so much water under the bridge.

Manu's clarity on what the government could and could not do verged almost on the dogmatic, but with absolutely irrefutable logic.  Long before the now-in-vogue idea of public-private partnership for infrastructure development, he had said that the government could not take the leading role in this sphere, something which even leading votaries of liberalism will not state with as much emphasis.

Manu was a voracious reader.  He did not have much time for the many mainstream papers which have now become tabloids, but read The Economist and the Economic and Political Weekly almost from cover to cover. 

His keen editorial eye and sense of detail served both I G and Alaknanda Patel well.  He was a trusted advisor to Alaknanda in her monumental endeavour of publishing the collected works of her father, Professor A K Dasgupta. 

His interests ranged wide and far. I told him about reading Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul and his eyes lit up as he shared his delight of his own discovery of Pamuk, even while he was being devoured by the excruciating disease. 

He loved Bach and was very proud of his rather engaging collection of music, which he had acquired during his years of stay abroad.  He loved classic Hollywood films and rued the fact that TNT was no longer active in India; that, however, did not stop him from appreciating a modern classic such as Ray when it was telecast last year.

I often teased him that I had preceded him at IIMA, the Economic Times and Baroda.  He used to say with a twinkle in his eye that he had preceded me in the world.  Now he has preceded me in another place.  As his son Gaurav gently whispered to him last morning, go in peace, dear friend.

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