Cambridge professor given Dr Manmohan Singh ‘chair’ offer at Punjab University

Chandigarh: There may be many aspirants eagerly wanting to occupy the chair of the country’s prime minister but a ‘chair’ in the name of incumbent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his alma mater, Panjab University (PU), here is waiting for a distinguished occupant.

The university, which has been unable to find a suitable person to occupy the Dr. Manmohan Singh Chair in the Department of Economics since it was instituted in 2009, has now decided to offer the chair to Ajit Singh, an Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Cambridge and a Life Fellow at Queen’s College, Cambridge, UK.

“The (PU) Syndicate has unanimously accepted the recommendation of the committee chaired by Professor R.P. Bambah (former PU vice chancellor) to extend an invitation to Professor Ajit Singh to offer him Dr. Manmohan Singh Chair,” a senior university official said here.

Ajit Singh, an alumnus of PU itself, began teaching economics at Cambridge in 1965.

“He has been a senior economic adviser to the governments of Mexico and Tanzania and a consultant to various UN developmental organisations, including the World Bank, the ILO, Unctad and UNIDO. During his economics career in Cambridge, Professor Singh has published several books and monographs as well as nearly 200 research papers, including 90 in refereed economic journals,” the Queen’s College website states.

The varsity’s move to offer the chair to Ajit Singh comes after it failed to get the acceptance of Nobel laureate and leading economist Amartya Sen. The chair was offered to Sen in July 2010.

The university, which is listed among the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) ‘Centre of Excellence’ category, has been unable to rope in eminent scholars of varied fields to occupy specially instituted chairs for high-end research work.

“Most of eminent people at the international level are not interested to come here. The academic environment too on the PU campus is not such that internationally renowned people would be eager to come here,” a senior faculty member from the social sciences department said, requesting anonymity.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had done his graduation (BA honours) and masters degree from PU in the early 1950s. He later joined the Department of Economics in PU and became a full professor at the young age of 32 years. He left the university later.

“It looks like a healthy gesture that a renowned economist has been invited for this chair. It will be a matter of pride for PU if he accepts the invitation,” sociologist Manjit Singh, a former president of the Panjab University Teachers’ Association (PUTA) said.

Some of the faculty members on the campus are, however, sceptical whether Ajit Singh will accept the invitation.

“Someone who has been associated with the University of Cambridge for over 45 years may not accept this invitation,” a faculty member said.

The Dr. Manmohan Singh Chair is not the only one waiting for a suitable candidate. Some of the other specially instituted chairs in PU have been vacant for years. The vacant chairs include the Guru Nanak Study chair, the Bhai Veer Singh chair (on comparative literature), the Guru Ravi Dass chair (on Sant Sahitya studies), the Shiekh Baba Farid chair (on medieval Punjabi literatrure), the Tagore chair, the Mulk Raj Anand chair and the Dayanand chair on Vedic studies.

As per university officials, a chair is created in the name of a visionary, scholar or renowned personality on a particular subject to provide a platform for research work.

“It was unusual for PU authorities to name a chair on a living person (Manmohan Singh). My people have linked it to sycophancy,” a senior PU official said.

Established in 1882 in Lahore city, now in Pakistan, PU was re-located to its present sprawling campus in Chandigarh’s Sector 14 and 25, in 1956 after the country’s partition in August 1947. It is one of the oldest universities in the country.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leads the list of known alumni from the university. Three of his present cabinet colleagues – Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, Urban Poverty Alleviation Minister Kumari Selja and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal – are also PU alumnni.

Another past prime minister, Inder Kumar Gujral, is also an alumnus of the university. Former president Shankar Dayal Sharma, who died in 1999, was also from the university.

Other notable alumni from PU include: present Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, her husband and former governor Swaraj Kaushal, Nobel laureate Har Gobind Khorana, astronaut Kalpana Chawla, first Nobel laureate from Pakistan Mohammed Abdus Salam, country’s first woman IPS officer Kiran Bedi, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra, actor Anupam Kher and singer late Jagjit Singh.

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