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April - May 2007

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Celebrating Historical Bonds: A Closer Look at India's Relationship with the LSE

by Krupa Thakrar

Dr BR Ambedkar, one of the founders of the Constitution of India

The beginning of 2007 saw Indian minister of finance Palaniappan Chindabaram make an exquisite guest speech to a congregation of students and academics from the London School of Economics, whilst the end of 2006 saw the LSE host its third Asia Forum for the first time in India. December’s forum was dedicated to the memory of Dr Indraprasad Gordhanbhai Patel, former director of the LSE, and former governor of the Reserve Bank of India.

Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize in Economoics

Delhi proved to be the ideal venue for the Asia Forum entitled Challenging Globalisation: reform, governance and society in light of the subcontinent’s growing economic and nuclear presence.

Late I. G. Patel, former director of the LSE

The Forum was attended by esteemed guests including LSE Alumini and a range of prominent politicians including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Speaking on the life of his dear friend IG Patel he said "Because of his profound wisdom, knowledge and experience, I.G. was the natural leader of economists working in the Government. I, for one learnt a great deal from him. In many ways, he was for me a friend, philosopher and guide."

The recent events and the regular events hosted by the LSE are more than debates on globalisation and speeches on India’s economic future. They salute the triumphant partnership that the LSE has shared with India, the government policies the university has influenced and the pioneers of modern India it has helped to create. The list of fine social scientists to have been associated with the school is indeed endless donning names like Dr. Ambedkar, Amartya Sen (Nobel Prize winner and later LSE professor), Nitin Desai (currently undersecretary General of UN), V.K. Menon and A.K. Dasgupta. Many of those on this list deserve more than flying mention.

India’s rapport with the LSE is noted to have begun with the renowned LSE Professor and later chairman of the Labour Party Harold Laski. One of his students, G.S. Mavlankar went onto to be the first speaker of the Lok Sabha and later founded the Harold Laski Institute of Politics in Ahmedabad. Another student, KR Narayan went on to be president of the Indian republic.

There is little doubt that the LSE has contributed in a profound way to the worldwide creation of the modern welfare state. Ever since it was founded by Sidney and Beatrice Web at the beginning of the 20th century, the LSE has continued to reinforce its reformist approaches that stress state obligations towards the underprivileged. It has equally bred endless state socialists and opponents to the nanny state (Oakeshoot Hayek, Popper amongst others) rendering the university a truly open political forum. Many of the ideas of Nehru and Indira Gandhi were influenced by their advisors V. K. Menon, P.N. Kaskar and B.K. Nehru, all of whom had studied at the LSE. Another LSE academic K.N Raj was Nehru’s young aid in the drafting of the first five year plan.

The statue of one of modern India’s pioneers, Dr. Ambedkar, now adorns the hallway of the LSE’s Clement House. A student at the LSE in the 1920s, he was fundamental to the creation of the constitution of independent India, and leader in the plight of India’s untouchables.

LSE economics graduate, Sardar Tarlok Singh was a key player in the creation of a progressive Punjab. Having worked for the Indian Civil Service in the 1930s, Singh was appointed the Director General of Rehabilitation in the Punjab and used his academic training to facilitate the resettlement of millions of Indians after partition.

Pre or post partition, India’s relationship with the LSE is commendable to say the least. It will continue to be fruitful as innovation between the two continues to goes from strength to strength.

The Sir Ratan Tata fellowship for example, continues to support dynamic scholars after Ratan Tata first gave the LSE a generous academic grant in 1912. There is also talk of LSE launching joint degrees and enhancing academic linkages with institutions in India. Universities on the list of this programme include the Delhi School Economics and Jawaharlal Nehru College amongst others.

The latest development to come about is the opening of a new Indian Observatory in the LSE Asia Research Centre. The unit is headed by Sir Nicholas Stern, head of the British Economic Service and manifests the university’s commitment to academic India.

As a post graduate from the LSE myself, I ooze with pride to have had the honour to study at an institution that has produced scholars, politicians and economists who have contributed in a robust manner to the development of India. I only hope that one day my career, as well as the careers of the thousands of students of Indian origin who have studied, do study and will continue to study at the LSE, allow us to contribute to the socio-economic progress of our motherland in the dynamic way that LSE scholars from India have done so in the past.

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