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Meghnad Desai, Baron Desai : biography

10 July 1940 -

Meghnad Jagdishchandra Desai, Baron Desai (born 10 July 1940) is an Indian-born British economist and Labour politician. He unsuccessfully stood for the Speaker in the British House of Lords in 2011,, Result the first ever non-UK born candidate to do so. He has been awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in the Republic of India, in 2008.

Early life

Born in Vadodara, Gujarat, India, Desai grew up with two brothers and one sister. He is said to have gone to secondary school at age seven and matriculated at 14. He secured a master's degree from the University of Mumbai, after which he won a scholarship to University of Pennsylvania in August 1960. He completed his PhD at Pennsylvania in 1963.

Saif Al-Gaddafi thesis

In 2007 Desai was asked by the University of London to serve with Tony McGrew of the University of Southampton as one of the two examiners of the PhD thesis of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the then leader of Libya. They did not immediately accept the thesis, as it was found to be weak. The candidate was subjected to an oral examination for two and a half hours and Gaddafi was asked to revise and re-submit it. The revised version was subsequently accepted.

As Desai had already retired from the LSE he had no involvement with the donation from Saif Gaddafi's charity to the LSE. Learning from the press of these links between LSE and Libya, Desai demanded that the money be returned to the people of Libya. He expressed disappointment at a speech Saif Gaddafi subsequently made on Libyan state television declaring the Gaddafi family's willingness to "fight to the last bullet", observing that "he was not behaving as if he had had an LSE education."London Evening Standard, 22 February 2011 (accessed 25 February 2011).

Academic career

He worked as Associate Specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics, University of California, Berkeley, California. He then became a lecturer at the London School of Economics in 1965. At the LSE, he taught econometrics, macroeconomics, Marxian economics and development economics over the years.

He wrote his first book Marxian Economic Theory in 1973 followed by Applied Econometrics in 1976 and Marxian Economics, a revised edition of his 1973 book in 1979. He wrote Testing Monetarism, a critique of monetarism, in 1981.

In the 1970s, he taught an idiosyncratic version of economic principles to freshers at the LSE (starting with Piero Sraffa).

Desai has written extensively publishing over 200 articles in academic journals and had a regular column in the British radical weekly Tribune during 1985–1994, in the Indian business daily Business Standard (1995–2001) and in Indian Express and Financial Express. From 1984-1991, he was co-editor of the Journal of Applied Econometrics. A selection of his academic papers was published in two volumes as The Selected Essays of Meghnad Desai in 1995.

He has been active in the British Labour Party, becoming Chairman between 1986 and 1992, and was made Honorary Lifetime and President of Islington South and Finsbury Constituency Labour Party in London. He was made a life peer as Baron Desai, of St Clement Danes in the City of Westminster, in April 1991.

In 2002, Desai's book Marx's Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism stated that globalization would tend toward the revival of socialism.

He published a biography of Indian film star Dilip Kumar entitled Nehru's Hero: Dilip Kumar in the life of India (Roli, 2004). He has described the book as his "greatest achievement". Examining Kumar's films – some of which Desai has seen more than 15 times – he discovers parallels between the socio-political arena in India and its reflection on screen. He discusses issues as varied as censorship, the iconic values of Indian machismo, cultural identity and secularism, and analyses how the films portrayed a changing India at that time.

In 2003, he retired as Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance, which he founded in 1992 at the London School of Economics (LSE), where he is now Professor Emeritus. He was Chairman of the Trustee's Board for Training for Life, Chairman of the Management Board of City Roads and on the Board of Tribune magazine. Lord Desai was also a founding member of the Development Studies Institute (DESTIN) at the LSE in 1990.

Desai retired from the LSE in 2003. Since then he has published Rethinking Islamism: Ideology of the New Terror (2006), The Route to All Evil: The Political Economy of Ezra Pound (2007), a novel Dead on Time, (2009) and The Rediscovery of India(2009).

Personal life

In 1970, he married his LSE colleague Gail Wilson, his first wife. She was the daughter of George Ambler Wilson, CBE. They had three children.

During the course of writing Nehru's Hero, he met Kishwar Ahluwalia (now Kishwar Desai), his second wife who worked as an editor for this book. On July 20, 2004 the couple married. Desai and 47-year-old Ahluwalia were both divorcees and married at a registrar's office in London.

Desai is an atheist."Lord Desai: Like my noble friend Lord Dormand I am an atheist and therefore should not speak too much about religion, but I am glad that the C[hurch] of E[ngland], having lost money in real estate, is now interested in sex and making money. That is always welcome." (accessed 24 April 2008). He is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society.


  • 1994, "Equilibrium, Expectations and Knowledge", in J. Birner & R. van Zijp, Hayek, Co-ordination and Evolution; His Legacy in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and the History of Ideas, Routledge 1994.
  • 2006, The Route of All Evil: The Political Economy of Ezra Pound, Faber & Faber
  • 2009, Dead on Time, Beautiful Books Limited (UK).
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Living octopus

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