Remembering Padma Desai, 1931-2023

The Davis Center remembers our friend and colleague Padma Desai (1931-2023).

Padma Desai (AB ‘57, PhD ‘60) was an extraordinary scholar, friend, and supporter of Soviet and Russian Studies. Training as an economist at Harvard under Alexander Gerschenkron and Robert Solow, Dr. Desai initially specialized in understanding how misallocation slowed the Soviet economy during the Cold War. Her work extended lessons from the Soviet Union to India, where she served on the faculty at the Delhi School of Economics from 1959-1968. She then returned to the US, first to teach at MIT and later at Columbia University. Her work on the Soviet Union and India earned her a preeminent position as a world-respected economist and expert on Russia, South Asia, and developing economies.

At the Davis Center, Dr. Desai had a direct impact on cultivating the next generation of Russian Studies scholars. Through a gift established by her husband, Jagdish Bhagwati, and named in her honor, the Padma Desai Research Prize in Russian Studies continues to provide awards to our outstanding graduate students. To date, the Padma Desai Research Prize has supported 16 graduate students in their research, leaving a lasting legacy in our field across economics, political science, sociology, international relations, and history. 

Dr. Desai will be dearly missed by many at Harvard and in our broader scholarly community.

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The full obituary is available via Financial Times.

Senior Research Fellow, Indian Political Economy and Emergent Ventures India

Ph.D. Student, Department of History, Harvard

James Gethyn Evans is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Harvard.