Economist Isher Ahluwalia passes away after battle with cancer

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on September 26, 2020 Published on September 26, 2020

ICRIER Chairperson Emeritus Isher Ahluwalia passes away at 74   -  Business Line

Isher Judge Ahluwalia was an institution builder, who was passionate about quality research besides a good human being

In the passing away of economist Isher Judge Ahluwalia, the country has lost an institution builder, a good academic, and a person who was passionate about good quality research and data analysis. More than this, she was an affable person who had a good memory to remember all those she met and interacted with during her career, said people who knew her well and worked closely over the last four decades.

Isher, as she was known to all, died on Saturday after a 10-month fight with brain cancer. She would have turned 75 on October 1.  A PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a MA from the Delhi School of Economics and a BA (Eco Homs) from Presidency College, Kolkata, Isher was a Padma Bhushan awardee who described her modest "Hindi medium" origins in her recently released memoirs, Breaking Through.

"She was the best human being you can think of. She had so much positive things to say about people and you can read this from her books", said Sharda Rao, who was the first Research Assistant to Isher and worked under her for nearly four years from 1980-84.

In the 80s, Isher would not hesitate to sit and work for hours in either NIPFP or the CSO government offices --which then had infrastructure handicaps like no air conditioning-- in the capital to do her research and analysis, recalled Rao, adding that Isher was so passionate about quality research.


Isher, who was married to former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a key player in the country's economic establishment for over two decades, was synonymous with ICRIER-- which she built into India's foremost research organisation.

After 15 years as Chairperson of the Board of Governors of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), Isher had stepped down from her position last month due to declining health.

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said Isher Ahluwalia was one of India’s distinguished economists, a MIT PhD, and author of an influential book ‘Industrial Growth in India’.

"She built up ICRIER, a fine economic think tank. She had her own distinctive identity apart from being Montek‘s wife," he said. She continued as ICRIER's Chairperson Emeritus, a position specially created to honour her exceptional contribution to ICRIER.

Arpita Mukherjee, Professor, ICRIER, who has known Isher Ahluwalia for the last two decades, said Isher Ahluwalia was passionate about good quality research which could help in evidence- based policymaking. "She always encouraged us to write books and journal articles. She taught us how to balance work and home and created an excellent work environment for working mothers in ICRIER," Mukherjee said.

 ICRIER Family Saddened

 Meanwhile, ICRIER Director and Chief Executive Rajat Kathuria said in a statement that the The ICRIER family is profoundly saddened at the passing away of chairperson Emeritus Isher Judge Ahluwalia this morning. “Isher was an institution herself and built ours to where it is today. ICRIER owes her everything and more. It is quite literally the passing of an era. I can say without an iota of doubt that ICRIER was in her DNA. The only persons who got precedence over ICRIER were her grandchildren. She was constantly thinking about ways to enhance the quality of research, attract new talent and raise more funds”, he said.

ICRIER Chairman Pramod Bhasin said: “She was an example and lesson for all of us to live life to its fullest and with excellence, and compassion. Her remarkable memoir, Breakthrough, is an example of that spirit. Her commitment and tireless pursuit of excellence and what was good for our country will be hard to replicated”.

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Published on September 26, 2020
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