M A I N   N E W S

To establish endowment for India studies at Johns Hopkins University
Ludhiana-born doc donates $2m
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

A prominent Indian-American has donated $2 million to establish an endowment for India studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. The endowment is the first of its kind in Washington.

Dr Mohinder P. Sambhi, a Ludhiana-born hypertension specialist, told The Tribune on Friday that he was convinced it was essential for India to have a "voice" to advance its cause on the world stage.

The fund supports student fellowships, a professional lecturer and eventually a professorship to be held by a scholar or practitioner whose eminence and promise in the field deepens Indian scholarship and instruction at SAIS, the institution says. The endowment was dedicated on Friday.

"The Indian-American community has been negligent about India studies at major US universities," Sambhi said, adding, "Indian-Americans are very generous, but they give money to temples and gurdwaras or projects back home. And I understand that's where their roots are, but it is important to do something here like my Chinese and Jewish friends have done." Sambhi has been in the US since 1953.

"You need a voice to advance your cause if you want a seat at the United Nations Security Council," said Sambhi, professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine. "If you want an advocacy group for your country, you have to have a presence in the universities."

But besides his obvious devotion to India, Sambhi confides he has a "personal reason" for parting with $2 million - his beloved wife of over five decades, Minno, who passed away in 2004. Sambhi has set up an endowed chair in Indian classical music at the University of California, Los Angeles, in her memory.

"I had been keen to do something like this, but after my wife's death it became imperative," he explained.

The Minno and Mohinder Sambhi endowment for India studies is the first of its kind in the nation’s capital.

India’s Ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, described the Sambhis as “fine examples of first-generation Indian-Americans who have contributed so much to the United States”.

Sen lauded the “vital role Indian-Americans are playing in being a bridge between India and the United States” and hoped Sambhi’s example is followed by others. “India deserves more attention and study,” Sen contended.

Noting Sambhi had retired into a life of “reflection and philanthropy”, SAIS Dean Jessica Einhorn hoped the India studies endowment would become a chair in the years to come.

Prof Sunil Khilnani, director of the South Asia studies programme at SAIS, told The Tribune US institutions “sorely lack a platform for discussions on India.” Khilnani and SAIS’s associate dean of development, Amir Pasic, first travelled to the West Coast to meet Sambhi and discuss the project.

Sambhi’s gift “will provide a venue for Indian voices; give younger Indians an exposure to how policy works in Washington,” Khilnani said, adding, “There is a hunger for news of India.”

Khilnani said SAIS would have an impact through its students, but said, “We don’t intend to have an advocacy role. That would be a mistake. Objectivity and neutrality will be more useful in building a relationship.”

Nandan Nilekani, co-chairman of the board of directors of Infosys Technologies Ltd, said he believed Sambhi had set an example for other Indian-Americans.

Nilekani, who is writing “Imagining India”, his thoughts on ideas that are changing India, delivered the W.P. Carey global leader lecture in which he discussed six ideas he believed have “bubbled to the top”.

These are: 1) the way India looks at population, “from it being a burden we had to do something about to a human capital”; 2) recognition of entrepreneurs as “engines of economic growth”; 3) attitudinal change towards the English language. From looking warily at English as an imperial language to now looking at it as “a language of aspiration”; 4) notion of democracy, from a top-down vision to now a bottom-up democracy; 5) technology has had a huge impact causing a “leap in productivity”; 6) “the confidence India has gained has made our worldview of globalisation more positive.”



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