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Prestigious US university announces India chair

May 22, 2012 20:44 IST

Virginia Commonwealth University's India Chair in Democracy and Civil Society a first in the United States. Aziz Haniffa reports

With support and encouragement from Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell -- who recently led a trade delegation to India -- and the Indian government, the Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, has launched a $1 million (Rs 5.5 crore) multi-year campaign to establish the first ever India Chair in Democracy and Civil Society in the United States.

More than 320 people -- including scores of Indian Americans, corporate honchos and friends of India from academia and the world of policy -- attended a fund-raiser dinner for the chair April 2.

The event was keynoted by McDonnell and Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao, with welcoming remarks delivered by VCU President Dr Michael Rao.

According to VCU sources, the fund raiser garnered nearly 20 per cent of the goal of $1 million for the chair that will be housed in VCU's L Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs named after this southern state's first African-American governor. Wilder was also present at the event and pledged his unstinted support for the project.

McDonnell told the guests about what an enjoyable visit he and his wife had had in India, their first, and spoke of how important the country was to Virginia economically and in the fields of education and culture.

He noted that India was Virginia's 15th largest trading partner and several Indian companies had invested in the state.

He also spoke fondly of his interactions with the Indian-American community in Virginia. He lauded their contributions to the politics, culture and education, and predicted that partnerships such as the India chair were imperative for promoting economic growth and strengthening international relationships.

'That's why this vision for this chair is so important -- because it represents the highest traditions of the best ideals of both our nations,' he added.

Ambassador Rao thanked the governor, the VCU leadership and the Indian-American community in Virginia for conceiving the idea of such a chair and pledged the Indian government's support.

'The horizon is limitless for what we can do together,' she said.


President Rao said the creation of this chair was a source of 'incredible pride' for the university, and predicted that it would provide 'an exciting opportunity for VCU, Richmond, the entire state and country.'

'We are making this investment not just for VCU, but also for the advancement of the human culture that matters throughout the entire world. We are making this investment for our future,' he said. 'We have gotten off to a great start, but this is just that -- a start.'

He urged the guests to keep up the momentum so that the goal of $1 million could be reached soon.

Professor Niraj Verma, director, L Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, who will be the hands-on point man in setting up of the chair and directing its programs, said, 'This is the first chair, or one of the first chairs, in the country, that celebrates the democratic and civil society aspects of the friendship between two countries. We see this as an enduring and everlasting value that in some ways governs all other values that bind us together.'

In an overview, the VCU acknowledged the work of other chairs of Indian studies at premier universities in North America and Europe in understanding Indian democracy, but said that none of them had addressed why Indian democracy withstood the test of time and why its place is so different.

'Although the transformation of the Indian economy has received recent global attention, few achievements give Indians as much pride as the legacy to continuous democratic governance since independent in 1947… Unlike other industrialising countries where capitalism was embraced first and democracy sought later, India is a rare example where democracy took residence even before modernisation and capitalism visited,' it said.

'The India Chair in Democracy and Civil Society will be devoted to studying this aspect of India, its history, culture and vibrancy of its civil society.'

Image: Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao and Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell both have supported the India Chair in Democracy and Civil Society  

Photograph Courtesy: Allen Jones/VCU Creative Services


Aziz Haniffa