Manmohan bests Maggie - Oxford alumnus Dr Singh to get an honorary doctorate

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By AMIT ROY in London
  • Published 12.02.05

London, Feb. 12: Manmohan Singh is to be awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University, it was announced last night.

The university, which can sometimes be very picky and prickly, has refused in the past to confer this signal honour on Margaret Thatcher and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the respective heads of government at the time of Britain and Pakistan respectively.

They were considered unworthy because of their allegedly undemocratic records.

This summer, ?subject to approval by Congregation? ? a formality ? Oxford will honour 10 people considered ?leading figures from the arts, as well as politics, science and business?.

Leading the list of names is the Prime Minister of India.

The university said that ?Dr Manmohan Singh will receive his honorary degree on a date to be agreed?.

As a well-known economist, he already has actual degrees from Cambridge and Oxford.

Oxford is a law unto itself but the honour granted to Singh does have political implications. It will convince the British government, if it needs any convincing, that Manmohan Singh is ?a good chap? who should be supported in any way possible in his efforts to provide India with a stable government over the next four years.

In other words, neither Downing Street nor the British Foreign Office will brief against him. And on such matters, the Americans are often guided by Britain.

The citation, which announces that he will be conferred with the ?Degree of Doctor of Civil Law, honoris causa?, explains the reason why he is being honoured.

The citation says: ?Dr Manmohan Singh, D.Phil, the 14th Prime Minister of India, studied at Punjab University, Cambridge, and finally Oxford where he completed a D.Phil in Economics. After a career in academia, he has held a number of political and economic appointments in India and at international organisations, including Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.?

It has been a source of endless grief to supporters of Margaret Thatcher, the ?Iron Lady? who reshaped the British economic landscape, that her enemies successfully prevented Oxford from ever honouring her.

And she was an Oxford graduate, having read chemistry at Somerville College from 1943-47. Indira Gandhi had earlier been at the same college but was unable to complete her degree, partly because of poor health.

This year, eight of the honorands will be awarded their honorary degrees at Encaenia, the university?s annual honorary degree ceremony, on June 22.

The nine others make it clear that Singh is in with many heavyweights.

They include: Sir William Castell, vice-chairman of the General Electric Company; Dr Oliver Sacks, Clinical Professor of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York; Sir Anthony Leggett, eminent physicist; Dr Christiane N?sslein-Volhard, Nobel Prize winner and director of the department of Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Development Biology; Sir Michael Rutter, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, King?s College, London; Dame Gillian Beer, King Edward VII Professor of English Literature; Ken Loach, film director (Kes); Toni Morrison, author (Song of Solomon and Beloved), and winner of the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize for Literature; and Paula Rego, artist.