|Vol. 24, No. 14||Feb. 10, 1999|
BY SUZANNE TRIMEL
The nation's first endowed professorship in Indian political economy has been created at Columbia with $2.5 million raised by prominent Indian-Americans in the New York metropolitan area. The chair will honor the distinguished international economist and Columbia faculty member, Jagdish Bhagwati.
The fundraising campaign, begun in 1994 and led by Columbia's Southern Asian Institute, recently reached the $2.5 million goal through a $500,000 donation by Sreedhar Menon, retired deputy president and former member of the board of American Express Bank Limited. Menon, who has held senior positions at American Express Bank and Lehman Brothers over his 34-year career, currently is Vice Chairman of RRE Investors, a venture capital firm which provides private equity to early growth stage information technology companies.
Menon believes the Jagdish Bhagwati Professorship of Indian Political Economy will fulfill a critical need for greater scholarly attention to the economy and politics of the world's largest democracy.
"I feel this chair is absolutely crucial for an Ivy League University," he said. Additionally, Menon said the professorship secures India as an important area of study for second and third generation Indian-Americans. "If you don't teach it, they will forget about it," he said.
Professor E. Valentine Daniel, Director of the Southern Asian Institute, said the decision to create a chair in Indian political economy, rather than a chair in Indian art history, an idea first put forth when the campaign got underway, highlights the importance of India in the world today, instead of its glorious past.
"This speaks to the vibrance of India's present and its significant future," Daniel said. Professor E. Valentine Daniel, director of the Southern Asian Institute, said the decision to create a chair in Indian political economy, rather than a chair in Indian art history, an idea first put forth when the campaign got underway, highlights the importance of India in the world today, instead of a focus on its glorious past. "This speaks to the vibrance of India's present and its significant future," Daniel said.
Daniel noted that when Menon declined an offer to have the chair named after himself as the major patron, the India Chair Campaign Endowment headed by Rajan Bansal suggested instead the obvious choice at Columbia, Professor Bhagwati. The choice was approved by the University Trustees. "This recognizes Professor Bhagwati's contributions as an economist foremost," said Daniel, "and also honors his energy, effort, purpose and distinction, without which, the creation of the chair would not have been possible."
Bhagwati's early work, "India: Planning for Industrialization," written with Columbia Economics Professor Padma Desai, provided the intellectual underpinnings for major economic reforms in India. As one of the world's top trade theorists, he has been a prolific writer for scholarly and popular audiences alike. Born in India and educated in England, his most recent book, "A Stream of Windows: Unsettling Reflections on Trade, Immigration, and Democracy," is a collection of his essays and lectures over the past 10 years from The New York Times, the Financial Times, the New Republic and other publications in which he argues passionately that free trade is nothing short of a moral imperative and essential to solving global economic problems.
The chair will provide for a close focus on the study of India's economic reforms, said Bhagwati, who noted that the professorship is but one more example of Columbia's dominance in the field of South Asian studies. "It has acquired a major role at Columbia and this chair only enhances our stature in this area," he said. More than 125 courses on South Asian culture, history, politics, literature and art are offered at Columbia every year. The Anthropology Department has added three top name scholars whose work focuses on the region, including Professor Daniel; Nicholas Dirks, Anthropology Chairman; and Sherry Ortner. Instruction is offered in 10 languages, including Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, Nepali, Punjabi, Tibetan, Urdu and Tamil.
More than 1,000 donors contributed to the India chair fund, which received support from prominent members of the Indian and American business and arts communities with large donations made by the State Bank of India, Air India, the American Express Foundation and The Starr Foundation. Organizers held a series of benefits, including a reading by poet Javed Akhtar, the U.S. premier of "In Custody" by Indian producer Ismail Merchant, and the U.S. premier of "The Making of Mahatma" by the noted Indian director Shyam Benegal. Three Indian Consul generals in New York, Rajendra Rai, Gajanan Wakankar and Harsh Bhasin, actively participated and encouraged the campaign.