Describing Ashish Bose who passed away on Monday as the person who coined the term BIMARU for India’s poorest states is like describing Raj Krishna as the person who came up with the term ‘Hindu rate of growth’. Students of Indian economics know Krishna for a lot more than just the term laymen associate him with, and students of demography know that Bose was more than just one of India’s foremost demographers. While a lay person may look at declining birth rates as just a statistical fact, for instance, a demographer would look at the proportion of women in the fertile age to tell you just how fast birth rates would fall.
But more than a demographer, important as that was, Bose was an anthropologist by inclination. And that is where his concept of Bimaru—Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh—came in. When he put down the phrase, in a note to the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, Bose was pointing to the particular social aspects that economists needed to take into account while doing their planning. Centuries of backwardness, for instance, wasn’t going to go away just like that, particularly for certain groups of people—special programmes would need to be developed to tackle them. In the same manner that coastal states/countries tend to have higher rates of growth, there is a reason why certain areas have lower growth rates. The different responses of different sets of people, their different histories, Bose argued, needed to be built into economic models and policies.