The University of Cambridge hosted 'Nehru and Today’s India', a major international symposium, in New Delhi last week to assess and mark the legacy of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister and Cambridge alumnus, in the year of his 125th birth anniversary.

The event brought together opinion leaders in global business, politics, academia, media and the arts from India and internationally.

They considered Nehru’s contribution in policymaking, institutional and scientific infrastructure and international affairs, assessing his impact in his time and his legacy in contemporary India.

Dr Karan Singh, Rajya Sabha MP (pictured with the Vice-Chancellor), was the Chief Guest and inaugurated the proceedings by delivering the opening plenary.

Speaking to a capacity audience at the India Habitat Centre, Dr Singh described his interactions with Nehru during the latter’s early years as Prime Minister, when the country was still finding its feet after independence.

Commenting on the recent elections in Delhi, Dr Singh expressed his delight that the principles of democracy in India so firmly established by Nehru were alive and well “because they have proven the vibrancy and power of our democracy."

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, spoke of the commitment of the University of Cambridge, which currently has over 300 active research links with India, to working with and within India.

Through six dynamic panel discussions titled “Economy and Development”; “Religion and Democracy”; “Nehru’s Image”; “Writing Nehru”; “Founding and Building India”; and “Internationalism” the symposium explored a variety of areas, in each of which the role of the India of Jawaharlal Nehru’s years remains both foundational and controversial.

Discussions ranged well beyond questions of the domestic state and policies to consider India’s international role over the last fifty years since Nehru’s death.

On the opening Economy and Development panel, which was broadcast by the popular television network NDTV, former Planning Commission member Arun Maira; Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University Jayati Ghosh; former Union Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh; Professor of History at Harvard University Sugata Bose; Chairman of DCM Engineering Dr Vinay Bharat Ram; and noted economist Professor Surjit Bhalla, looked back at the Planning Commission as a creation of Nehru, and assessed NITI Aayog, India’s new policy think-tank to advise the central and state governments, in the context of Nehruvian planning.

In the second panel on Religion and Democracy, which was also broadcast by NDTV, political theorist and Labour Party Peer Bhikhu Parekh; Rajeev Bhargava, Professor of Political Studies with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Naman Ahuja, Professor of Indian art history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Arif Mohammad Khan, former Uttar Pradesh State minister, and senior journalist Swapan Dasgupta evaluated Nehru’s views on organised religion, and religious campaigning and politics.

Subsequent panels included speakers like historian and writer Patrick French; eminent historians Professors Romila Thapar and Christopher Bayly; jurist and former Attorney-General of India Soli Sorabjee; Lok Sabha MP and former Minister of State Dr Shashi Tharoor; former Ambassador and Foreign Secretary Salman Haider; political campaign advisor Dilip Cherian; Vice-Chancellor of Ashoka University Professor Rudrangshu Mukherjee; Director of the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum Tasneem Zakaria Mehta; and former Union Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid.

The conference ended with a reception and dinner at the Oberoi Hotel hosted by the Vice-Chancellor, which was attended by the panellists from the day’s proceedings and guests including CK Birla, Chairman of the of the CK Birla Group; Meira Kumar, Former Speaker of the Lok Sabha; and Nand Khemka, Chairman of the Sun Group, amongst others.

The joint Cambridge convenors of Nehru and Today’s India, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for International Strategy Dr Jennifer Barnes, and Dr Shruti Kapila, Lecturer at the Faculty of History, highlighted how by bringing leading figures from India and across the world to make a measured judgement on Nehru’s legacy, the event helped frame and lead discussions on new policies, perspectives and ideas that are shaping India’s future and engagement with the global order.

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