Isher Judge Ahluwalia: Leaving a Legacy Behind

The demise of acclaimed economist Isher Judge Ahluwalia has kindled numerous memories of her contribution to India’s civil society. The Padma Bhushan awardee achieved numerous accolades for her work and contribution to the field of Indian economic policy. Having completed her Ph.D. in economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she began her career at the International Monetary Fund.

She went on to become the Chairperson Emeritus, Board of Governors at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. She worked closely with the government and many International Organisations such as the Asian Development Bank. A widely published author and academician, her recent book “Breaking Through” describes her breaking many glass ceilings through the course of her career in economics and public policy.


I first got to know the renowned economist, Isher Judge Ahluwalia when I was working with her son, Aman Ahluwalia, during the time when I was the Additional Solicitor General. He was marked on several briefs along with me and it was a real pleasure to work with him.

I regularly read her column, Cities at Crossroads, in the Indian Express with great interest. It was full of interesting ideas and what we all could do to create better cities and sustainable lifestyles. Every piece was inspiring. She was such a treasure trove of information.

We began corresponding from 2009 onwards. I admired her commitment to cleaning up the environment and she worked closely with most of us on the field.

I often met Aman at random events. I didn’t know his family very well but admired his contribution to child-rearing and I often discussed this with him. He shared housework and duties of child-rearing equally with his wife.

I was convinced that this was due to his upbringing.

Isher must have definitely played a big role in Aman’s approach towards child care and sharing domestic responsibilities. Initially, this is what fascinated me about his mother. I realised that Isher had inculcated the importance of ensuring equality of women in her two sons. Aman believed that it was the call of the times and said he believed in taking equal responsibility for child care. Be that as it may, my own interest in Isher grew from there.

I was impressed because, having never been able to write a book on my journey in the world of law, I was fascinated with the amount of time she spent on her desk.

I was very happy when she often invited me to coffee. We had great conversations and we struck a good friendship. She was gracious enough to invite me and my partner to a lavish meal at her residence, where I met her husband, Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Her library and place of work were the centre of her home. I was impressed because, having never been able to write a book on my journey in the world of law, I was fascinated with the amount of time she spent on her desk. Her colourful life was documented in her last piece of work, Breaking Through.

A keen environmentalist, she solicited my support in trying to end pollution in Delhi. If the air we breathe today is better and cleaner than it was, it is partly due to her role in convincing authorities to introduce waste management in all residential colonies.

In her own words, she had so much to do, so much to work on and so much to give.

She went away a bit too soon.

We would all have benefited from her experience and commitment.

She leaves behind a legacy with her intellectual inputs to India’s economy.

I will always miss her.

(Indira Jaising is Senior Advocate at Supreme Court of India and human rights activist.)