Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Prof. M.L. Sondhi Memorial Lecture

D.A.V. College, Jalandhar hosted the first Prof. Manohar Lal
Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal on the College round
Sondhi Memorial Lecture on February 6, 2016 in cooperation with Prof. M.L. Sondhi Memorial Trust in honour of one of its illustrious alumni. The Trust was established to ‘promote the late Prof. M.L. Sondhi’s vision relating to the emerging of India as a strong but benign power in the family of nations’. Prof. M.L. Sondhi (1933-2003) belonged to a known and established family which came to Jalandhar from Lahore in the wake of partition in 1947. Prof Sondhi, a highly motivated in nationalistic lore and an intelligent youth, moved to Delhi in 1956 on qualifying the UPSC civil services examination and on being selected and appointed in the coveted Indian Foreign Service (IFS) in 1956. But, perhaps, the general regimentation which comes with the government service could not limit his intellectual and academic traits and he resigned from IFS in 1962. While pursuing his intellectual pursuits, Prof. Sondhi opted for public life and joined Bhartiya Jan Sangh Party in 1965. He got elected to Lok Sabha in 1967 from a constituency in Delhi.  A youthful, intelligent, tall and handsome Member of Parliament made waves not only in political circles but also in the corridors of many universities and motivated the youth. I was, as I narrated at the Lecture on February 6, one of them. On reading the Urdu print media like Hind Samachar of Lala Jagat Narain, Pratap of Shri Varinder and Milap of Shri  Yash which highlighted the youthful Manohar Lal Sondhi as a youth icon, my father used to mention him many a times. I vividly remember. I don’t know how far it is correct but it was said that Manohar Lal Sondhi resigned from the IFS registering his disagreement with PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s China policy.  He contributed positively in instituting East European studies in Indian institutions in the 60s. Later from 1989-1991 when I was the Under Secretary on the East European desk of the Ministry of External Affairs, I visited the School of East European studies quite often to attend various seminars and discussions at the JNU.  I have had an opportunity to visit Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic) and interact with some of the contemporaries of Prof. M.L. Sondhi, when I was the Minister Counsellor at the Embassy of India, where Prof. Sondhi studied the Czech language and East European politics in the late 50s as a young diplomat.

Ambassador Bal Anand, IFS (Retired), yet another alumnus of DAV College, Jalandhar, was instrumental in bringing together DAV College, Jalandhar and Prof. M.L. Sondhi Trust to arrange the annual lecture at the College in the memory of Prof. M.L. Sondhi. Principal J.C. Joshi and Prof. K.K. Ghai interacted with Principal B.B. Sharma to finalize the arrangements to host this important intellectual and academic event on a regular basis. It is a thoughtful initiative and should be appreciated.

Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal, IFS (Retired) and currently Central Information Commissioner was the Key Note speaker at Prof. M.L. Sondhi Memorial Lecture on the theme: India-Pakistan Relations – Challenges and Prospects. It was an excellent choice. Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal has been a keen Pakistan watcher and one of the finest diplomats of India who was posted in Islamabad for more than 8 years of his long diplomatic career both as Deputy High Commissioner of India from 1995-1999 and High Commissioner of India from 2009-2013. Ambassador Sabharwal gave an overview of India-Pakistan relations which is not, given the complexities and sensitivities of the relations from day one of independence of both India and Pakistan, an easy task. But a cool and dispassionate analysis given by Ambassador Sabharwal set the matter in right perspective which was appreciated and well received by the enlightened audience. There could have been many fireworks and excitements in the lecture but the speaker, like a good and seasoned diplomat, was able to say all with great ease. He was satisfied with slow and incremental gains with maintaining continuous dialogue to bring out Pakistan from “State Security Paradigm”. He stressed on increased economic and commercial interaction between the two countries and also on more people to people contacts. Ambassador Sabharwal listed a few “silver linings” between the tricky and difficult relations which have started emerging slowly due to resultant fatigue in maintaining adversarial relations. The interactive session with the audience was very good which clearly indicated that the thought provoking lecture was very well received.

Principal B.B. Sharma in his welcome address spoke highly of both Prof. M.L. Sondhi and Ambassador Sabharwal and also thanked Smt. Madhuri Sondhi and the Trust for choosing DAV College, Jalandhar for the prestigious lecture. Smt. Madhuri Sondhi in her brief but focused remarks thanked Ambassador Bal Anand for his initiative and Management of DAV College in hosting the lecture in the memory of her illustrious husband. Principal J.C. Joshi, a contemporary of Prof. M.L. Sondhi, in his poetic address re-lived the memories of life and values of Professor M.L. Sondhi. Prof. K.K. Ghai, a proud teacher of Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal and also mine, introduced the Key Note Speaker and became emotional in his brief but beautiful speech and said that one can imagine how happy he was when he found two of his students were adorning the dais, Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal as the Key Note Speaker and Ambassador Ramesh Chander as Chairman the Session. I could see, sitting on the high table, Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal was, like me, visibly moved with a sense of gratitude to the alma mater. I was fully choked with overwhelming emotions, while giving the Chair’s brief remarks and applauding Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal and Smt. Madhuri Sondhi, thanked Principal B.B. Sharma and the Management for inviting me to do the honours at
Ambassador Ramesh Chander deliverying the Chair's remarks
the dais and giving me generous respect and regard. Referring to the theme of the lecture, I floated a question whether there was any possibility in the near future to have an “Out of the Box” solution to the problems and irritants, particularly the Kashmir issue which is said to be the ‘jugular vein’ of Pakistan and ‘soul of India’? The “Out of the Box solution” is all the more needed when both the sides know that the status quo cannot be changed by force or military means. Prof. Ashwini Sharma conducted the proceeding with admirable flare as a good Master of Ceremonies. His appropriate rendering of Urdu couplets in his remarks was masterly.

I am confident that Prof. M.L. Sondhi Memorial lecture will become an annual feature and an important date in the activities of DAV College, Jalandhar in the years to come. It will be of an immense benefit not only to the intellectual and academic circles but also to the young students of international relations and diplomacy in and around Jalandhar.

Earlier in the morning before the lecture, Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal and other guests, particularly the teachers of Ambassador Sabharwal and his class fellows and friends were taken to a round of the campus to ‘relive memories of DAV life.’ It was really nostalgic. Ambassador Sabharwal was visibly happy to see and meet Prof. K.K. Ghai and his class fellow’s viz. Prof. Satish Verma now Head of the Economics Department at DAV
Amb. Sharat Sabharwal with teachers and class fellows
College itself, Shri Malkiat Singh, IPS (Retired), Former ADGP of UP and Chairman of UP Public Service Commission, Shri Ram Lal Das, a retired senior Bank Officer, Shri Dev Raj, Retired ACP of Delhi Police, Shri L.R. Nayyar, IRS (Retired) Former Income Tax Commissioner. Seeing them meeting and interacting, it was clearly established that it was difficult to forget the young and formative years of school and college even after the lapse of many long years. Visit to the Hall of Fame where a photo exhibition of old memories was put up revived my own old memories of the convocation in which I received my degree of BA in 1970. I could also see the photo of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s visit and lecture on the parliamentary democracy in 1951 along with some other photos of real importance. Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal inaugurated the interactive sessions of the Ecomania 2: The Enthusiasm, 2016 at the Economics Department of the College which were arranged by the Ambedkar Planning Forum. It was satisfying to note, from the name of the Forum, that besides Dr. Ambedkar’s recognition as the father of the Indian Constitution and a social reformer, his contribution as an economist par excellence, has increasingly started to be recognized, of late, and rightly so.

All said and done, let me conclude by saying that Prof. M.L. Sondhi Memorial Lecture at DAV College, Jalandhar on February 6, 2016 will remain live in my memory for years to come.

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