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India to play major role as Nobel reinvents itself
- Biggest initiative will be launched in October

Stockholm, April 24: The Nobel is reinventing itself and India will have a major participation in it in tune with the country’s new role as an emerging power in the 21st century.

The Nobel Foundation announced yesterday that the biggest initiative in its 114-year history would be launched in India in October around the theme of “ideas changing the world”.

Two Nobel laureates, whose names are to be finalised soon, will travel to India and several universities will be drafted to absorb the inspiration behind the annual Nobel awards.

The announcement was made by Mattias Fyrenius, CEO of Nobel Media AB, which develops and manages programmes and productions of the Nobel Prize, at the inauguration here of India Unlimited, a weeklong platform which aims to connect India and Sweden.

The focus on India, which will be called a “Nobel Prize inspiration initiative”, is part of a complete overhaul of the Foundation’s set-up that will see a sprawling new Nobel Centre here by 2018 where the prizes will be awarded instead of the present borrowed venues.

Because the Foundation’s own suitable venue has been lacking hitherto, the December awards are conferred in one place, the Stockholms Konserthus, this city’s concert hall. The banquet for 1,300 people then takes place in another location: Stockholms Stadshus, the city hall.

In a preview to yesterday’s announcement, Fyrenius took The Telegraph on an exclusive tour of the Foundation’s present headquarters, including its modest room — smaller than many corporate boardrooms — where Nobel laureates have made history by receiving their award money and medals.

In part, the Nobel Prize inspiration initiative in India this year will assuage the latent but longstanding hurt among Indians that Mahatma Gandhi, whom many consider as having deserved the Peace Prize, was never given the world’s most prestigious award by the Nobel Committee.

Fyrenius said the committee had already recognised the omission in an exception to the usual practice of not justifying or rationalising the reasons for conferment or otherwise. He said that if Gandhi had not been assassinated so soon after he won freedom for India, the history of the award would have included him.

Banashri Bose Harrison, India’s ambassador to Sweden, a Bengali who has informally promoted Rabindrasangeet with its Nobel associations on her postings across continents, facilitated the announcement of the Nobel Prize inspiration initiative yesterday at the inauguration of India Unlimited, which was conceived by her to jumpstart India-Sweden relations.

She told this newspaper she is not surprised when India performs poorly in the Olympics but is truly surprised that so few Indians have got the Nobel considering the huge reservoir of talent among its people.

Banashri hoped the Foundation’s new India initiative would awaken the passion and ideals of the Nobel awards among the next generation, especially with universities getting involved in the effort.

The ambassador hoped that one outcome of the Foundation’s coming involvement in the country would be the use of Swedish innovations in an Indian context.

“I found many Swedes very impressed with a striking photo popularised here showing an elderly, toothless Indian woman using Bluetooth technology on her cellphone. Bluetooth is a Swedish innovation. The photo made people realise the global nature of implementing new technology.”

In a boost to the Foundation’s preparations, Banashri has been able to enlist firm government support from New Delhi. This week, K. Vijayraghavan, secretary in the department of biotechnology, arrived in Stockholm along with Arabinda Mitra, head of the international cooperation division of the department of science and technology.

Vijayraghavan will meet Foundation officials on Friday to firm up further details of the India initiative.

The Foundation’s plans for India in October will coincide with the Sweden-India Nobel Memorial Week, which has been observed now for seven years in a row in select Indian cities. Last year, the memorial week was celebrated in Calcutta to mark the centenary of the Nobel for literature for Rabindranath Tagore.

On that occasion, the Swedish embassy in New Delhi procured the original text of the Nobel nomination for Tagore from the Swedish Academy and brought it to Calcutta. In addition, Harald Sandberg, Sweden’s ambassador to India, inaugurated a Nobel Memorial Wall to commemorate India’s Nobel laureates at the Esplanade Metro Station.

Banashri, who was the ministry of external affairs point person for dealings with Central Europe, including Sweden during several of these weeklong observances, said she was inspired by those and decided to take the ideas forward once she was posted as ambassador in Stockholm.