NEW DELHI: A centre established by Somerville college in the University of Oxford in 2013 with a £3 million grant from India and named after Indira Gandhi has seen the name of the former prime minister dropped after the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014.
The Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development (OICSD) was named the Indira Gandhi Centre for Sustainable Development at its launch during the tenure of the Manmohan Singh government. Gandhi, an alumnus of the college, studied Modern History there in 1937.
The memorandum of understanding to set up the centre was signed in May 2013 after then minister for human resources development MM Pallam Raju visited the college. The Indian grant of £3 million was matched by the University of Oxford.
An “Education Brief” of the Indian government dated December 1, 2016 suggests the name was changed during the year. College officials, however, told Hindustan Times there had been no pressure or suggestion from New Delhi to change the name.
The brief states: “The Indira Gandhi Centre for Sustainable Development (IGCSD), established at the College with Government of India providing seed money of Rs 25 crore (GBP 3 million) – has begun work.
“The Centre is now called Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development (OICSD). The Centre would be housed in a new building on Oxford University’s Redcliff Observatory Quarter adjacent to Somerville College. The Centre would be fully established in time for the centenary celebrations of Smt Gandhi’s birth on November 19, 1917.”
Asked about the change of name, Alice Prochaska, principal of the college, said: “We have committed to use our ‘best endeavours’ to set up an ‘inspirational research facility’, ie an Indira Gandhi Centre for Sustainable Development, in a building on our site, and we are using our best endeavours to achieve the funding for a building that will indeed house the Indira Gandhi Centre.
“The prestigious building is a long-term plan and if we achieve it, will be larger than only the IG Centre but will include the IG Centre. The overall building could be named for the donor. While these plans are evolving, we are using the overarching name of the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development for the current activity, which includes the Indira Gandhi Scholars and programme.”
Gandhi visited the college in 1971 to receive an honorary doctorate. In 2002, Congress president Sonia Gandhi presented a portrait of the former prime minister, which hangs alongside a painting of Margaret Thatcher, another alumnus of the college.
The centre with the new name is seen as part of “An historic Oxford-India Partnership”. The college describes it thus: “The OICSD advances India’s sustainable development by bringing different academic disciplines and sectors together.”
It adds, “We develop future leaders by supporting exceptional Indian scholars to study at Oxford; we carry out multidisciplinary research on sustainable nutrition, the environment and health; and we translate academic ideas to the ground.”
In November 2016, the college celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of Nashik-born Cornelia Sorabji (1866-1954), the first Indian woman student at Oxford who went on to become the first Indian woman lawyer in colonial India.