| Patel. Picture: LSE
London, Oct. 5: What sort of occasion can bring together under one roof such senior international figures as Kamal Nath, India’s commerce and industry minister; Dr Y.V. Reddy, governor of the Reserve Bank of India; Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England; .P. Bhatt, chairman of the State Bank of India; professor Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the landmark report on climate change; and Sir Howard Davies, director of the London School of Economics'
Despite appearances, this is not an Agatha Christie-type murder mystery in which one of the guests at an English country weekend is discovered behind the sofa with a knife in his back.
The reason for the meeting this coming Monday in London is almost as interesting: the big wigs are congregating to honour the memory of Dr I.G. Patel, in whose name a new chair in economics and government has been founded at the LSE.
The LSE, the RBI and the SBI are each contributing £1million, spread over 10 years, towards funding the chair because Patel had served all three organisations. All say he was “much loved”.
He was LSE director from 1984 to 1990, the first Indian to hold the post; RBI governor from 1977 to 1982; and a director on the SBI board at the time of his death, aged 80, in New York, in 2005.
The LSE does not have anything so mundane as an Indian department to coordinate its expanding involvement with India — the new chair will be part of what it loftily calls the “India Observatory”.
The first holder of the chair has already been appointed and been lecturing since June 11 — it’s Stern who is doing the job part time.
Stern will head a new India Observatory within the LSE’s Asia Research Centre, be director of the LSE Asia Research Centre and will also contribute to climate change research at the school, the LSE said.
The Asia Research Centre was co-founded by professor Lord Meghnad Desai, a leading expert on Nargis, Sunil Dutt, Dilip Kumar and Guru Dutt. Manmohan Singh is an honorary fellow of the centre.
Stern said: “I am delighted to be coming back to LSE. I.G. Patel first gave me the opportunity to work at LSE, and it is a great honour to hold the chair in his name. His friendship and guidance were cherished by all who knew him. Research on Asia and on economic development has been at the heart of my academic life. I am pleased to be able to continue this work and to develop and deepen the relationship between the LSE and India.”
Welcoming his appointment, Davies commented: “We are proud that he has agreed to honour Dr I.G. Patel’s memory by taking up this chair and directorship of the new India Observatory. His involvement as head of the observatory and of our Asia Research Centre will enhance the school’s reputation, take forward its work on Asia and continue the intellectual and political dialogue there has been between LSE and India for many years.”
It all sounds a bit like jobs for the boys but the assembled leaders from the world of academia, politics and banking will take part in a debate, “India at 60 in a Changing World: Next 20 Years”, in the LSE’s Peacock Theatre, to be followed by a reception in the Atrium in the Old Building.
The Bank of England governor will, no doubt, be grateful for a drink or two because since the run on Northern Rock, caused indirectly by the mortgage lending problems in the United States, many have wondered whether he is really up to his job of maintaining stability in the British banking system.
There is no such question mark over the status of Indian banks, such as the SBI, which is ready, in common with other major Indian banks, to finance significant Indian acquisitions in the UK, the US, the EU and elsewhere.
Sudha Malhotra, the SBI’s regional head & CEO (UK), told The Telegraph today: “The Indian banks have been largely insulated from the sub prime crisis (in the US). In any case, our lending policy has always been cautious. But we have financed the Tata-Corus deal.”
“IG”, as Patel was known to all, would have approved of this conservative approach. Though he was a top civil servant who advised on India’s crucial second, third and fourth “five-year plans”, he could not be tempted to go into politics. He wanted to exercise influence rather than power, he confided to a friend.
It is widely believed that when P.V. Narasimha Rao became Prime Minister in 1991 and realised he would need to do something radical to rescue the Indian economy, then in deep trouble, a friend, Dr P.C. Alexander, a former Indian high commissioner in London, told him: “You have basically two choices as your finance minister — I.G. Patel or Manmohan Singh.”
Patel turned down the job. “Why on earth should I want to go into politics'” he told the friend. “I’ll get all the blame because the economy is in a mess.”
He also felt that some of the militant Hindu groups in Gujarat were being financed by overseas Gujaratis, especially those in the UK. He got his Gujarati friends in Britain, among them Lord Parekh, Lord Desai and Lord Dholakia, to make public pronouncements and urge caution on the Gujarati diaspora.
As a small boy in a traditional Hindu family, Patel had grown up with Muslims. His mother’s best friend had been a Muslim. Now, he felt that under Narendra Modi, the nationalist chief minister of Gujarat, the world he had known was being destroyed.
“This (the Hindu/Muslim conflict) is absolutely not Gujarat’s culture,” he said. “Whatever has happened in Gujarat is a perversion of whatever we have taken pride in so far. I was raised in a different world.”
Patel’s widow, Alaknanda, the daughter of the distinguished economist professor A.K. Dasgupta, won’t be able to attend Monday’s gathering though she came to the LSE last year.