Monday, January 29, 2007

News: Letter From Abroad - India: Bob Kerrey Leads ICI Delegation in Passage to India

By Pepper Nevins

New School President Bob Kerrey and several other senior New School officials traveled to India
shortly after the New Year to promote The New School’s India China Institute (ICI). During the seven-day trip, which included stops in Mumbai, New Delhi and the growing interne
t-technology hub of Pune, Kerrey met and consulted with high-profile academics,
government ministers and several of the Indian fellows of the ICI, in an attempt to raise the profiles of The New School and the ICI and discuss India-U.S. relations.

The ICI was launched in 2005 to encourage study and research, and build connections between China, India and the United States—countries that, according to the ICI Web site, share many interests but “have not yet been engaged fully in three-way conversations.” Since its inauguration, the ICI has organized many public events, speaker series’ and discussion forums on India and China, and also awards study grants to faculty members, graduate and undergraduate New School students interested in India and China studies.

On January 3rd, after a flight delay of nearly 24 hours, the New School delegation arrived early in the morning at a luxurious hotel in the leafy South Mumbai neighborhood of Cuffe Parade. Traveling through the nation’s financial capital a few hours later, they witnessed the range of experiences in India, a country of both soaring economic growth for much of the burgeoning middle class and crushing poverty for hundreds of millions more.

In Mumbai, fancy high-rise apartment buildings are surrounded by sprawling slums and businessmen in chauffeured sedans are frequently approached by beggars on corners of the city’s over-crowded streets.

Speaking at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, Kerrey stressed the importance of social science, saying there is an increasing demand in the region for experts in the social sciences.

Social sciences, he added, will be needed to deal with “a whole range of problems associated with people moving from one part of the world to another.”

Migration has been the central theme of the first year of the ICI, and is certainly close to the heart of Mumbai, a city whose population has grown by the millions in the past 10 years.

“I’ve been scratching my head this morning wondering how you run a city as enormous as Mumbai without a strong municipal government,” Kerrey said.

Despite the fact that he focused his speech on India, during the question-and-answer session Kerrey was confronted with questions on American politics—namely, the war in Iraq. Kerrey suggested that countries like India would benefit from the Democratic victory in Congress last November.

“You will see real change,” he said. “It will be good, not bad for India and other places around the world.”

On the war in Iraq, however, Kerrey expressed concerns about Americans’ hesitation about getting involved with future international crises.

“The bad news is that the United States is going to be very reluctant to get involved in anything like that again,” he said. “There is a mood out there that says, ‘We’ve had enough, let somebody else solve the problems.’”

Kerrey also said that the U.S. did not have to occupy Iraq in order to fight terrorists, and called for an early pullout from Iraq.

“I would like the President to say we will be out by July 1,” he said.

After the speech Kerrey, along with Provost Ben Lee, ICI Director Ashok Gurung and Kerrey’s chief of staff, Sherry Brabham, traveled by car to Pune, about 120 kilometers east of Mumbai.

Pune is known both as a university town, with 150,000 enrolled students, and a burgeoning center for the Indian and international software industry.

There, the delegation met with academics and business figures before carrying on to New Delhi, where they met with several senior government officials, including the ministers of agriculture, aviation and security.

Several fellows of the ICI joined Kerrey in New Delhi for a discussion called “India-US Relations: A Congressional Perspective.” Questions focused largely on the recent nuclear agreement between the United States and India, in which India agreed to separate its civilian and military nuclear programs in exchange for U.S. nuclear power assistance and fuel.

Under the agreement, India’s civilian nuclear facilities would be subject to permanent international inspections, but would allow India to produce large amounts of fissile material—material that the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain have voluntarily
stopped producing.

In Washington, the deal has been criticized by some members of Congress, who said that improved bilateral relations with India must be balanced with the need to rein in nuclear proliferation. Socialist groups and anti-Bush protestors in India have argued that India was bowing to U.S. pressure on nuclear issues.

But Kerrey argued that the agreement marked a turning point in US-India relations.
“The criticism that the deal was too US-centric was not accurate,” he said. “It is an effort to help India. The Indian-American community was only rising in influence and this would have to be kept in mind.”

Returning to Mumbai before the 17-hour flight back to New York, the New School delegation was hosted for lunch by a pair of influential Indian businessmen—Keshub Mahindra of automaker Mahindra & Mahindra and Rana Kapoor of Yes Bank—who also happen to be parents of New School students.

Pepper Nevins is the former Editor-in-Chief of Inprint.

Kerrey, Lee, and staff pose outside of the University of Pune.

Kerrey delivers a speech on the importance of social sciences at the Tata Institue.
Photos courtesy of The New School University.

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