Shortly after the establishment of the South Asia Foundation in September 2000, France Marquet, Advisor, and I called on Hon. Inder Kumar Gujral to seek his advice. As Prime Minister of India, he had taken a number of effective steps, known as the ‘Gujral Doctrine’, to attempt a rapprochement between India, Pakistan and other South Asian countries. He emphasized to us that the aims, objectives and activities of the SAF must necessarily be in conformity with the spirit, purpose and principles of the SAARC charter, and suggested that the structure of the organization be decentralized, comprising autonomous chapters. Hon. Inder Kumar Gujral very kindly accepted to become the first chairperson of the Indian chapter of the SAF. Hon. Gujral retired in 2006 and Hon. Mani Shankar Aiyar, Minister, Panchayati Raj, Youth & Sports, has since taken over as chairman of the SAF chapter in India.
Whilst in Delhi we attended a seminar sponsored by the European Commission entitled ‘National Identity and Regional Cooperation: Experiences of European Integration and South Asian Perceptions’. This meeting was attended by a wide variety of eminent Indian and European personalities including diplomats, civil servants, university professors, scholars and media representatives. Ambassador K. B. Lal, who organized the conference, was among those who delivered the inaugural and valedictory addresses, along with the Hon. Pranab Mukherjee, who is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Salman Khurshid, the former Minister of State for the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India. Several other speakers provided a wealth of thought-provoking ideas regarding the similarities and differences between the European and South Asian concepts of regional cooperation.
The Third SAF General Conference, held in Delhi on 14th December 2003, was significant because the vice-chancellors and rectors of South Asian open universities had jointly designed and completed in record time a Post Graduate Diploma course in Environment and Sustainable Development (PGD-ESD). Among the new joint projects, it was decided to upgrade the PGD-ESD to a Masters-level programme and continue adding to the SAF’s repertoire of distance learning by jointly designing courses on teacher-training, human rights and so on. The conference was also used to launch a programme offering 10,000 annual SAF Madanjeet Singh scholarships for a period of three years to SAF-affiliated organizations, including open universities and SOS Children’s Villages in South Asia.
However, at its Special Meeting held in New Delhi on 27th November 2006, the SAF Governing Council felt that although this scholarship programme benefited deprived and marginalized students, it did little to promote regional cooperation. Hence, it was decided to phase out this programme and instead increase the SAF Madanjeet Singh Group Scholarships.
This innovative programme was first developed in 2002 at the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), Chennai. The scholarships are awarded annually to a young woman and a young man, selected from each of the South Asian countries, to study jointly in a number of institutions in South Asia. The ACJ example was successfully emulated by the School of Visual Arts at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, Pakistan.
The SAF extended a helping hand by contributing the sum of INR 15,000,000 to victims of the earthquake that struck, with devastating effect, both parts of Kashmir. In India, INR 50,000,000 was also pledged for the rehabilitation of damaged schools in Uri, my ancestral town.
The 1998 UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-violence was awarded jointly to the well-known activist Narayan Desai, organizer of the Shanti Sena (Peace Bridge) corps of Indian volunteers dedicated to non-violence, and the Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights in Pakistan, represented by Shah Taj Qizilbash. Narayan Desai actively promotes Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of Gram Swaraj (village self-government) – a decentralized political and economic system – and has also contributed to the creation of a number of peace centres and youth training camps in India.
The Prize has acquired significant international status, having been chaired by Nobel Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, while members comprise former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros Ghali; former Prime Minister of India, Inder Kumat Gujral; and other eminent personalities.
At the Special Meeting held on 27th November 2006, the SAF Governing Council decided that thereafter the South Asia Foundation would fund the biannual UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-violence, with the amount of US$ 100,000.
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SAF India Chapter
SAF Chairperson: Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar
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SAF Vice-Chairperson: Dr. Syeda Hameed
SAF Vice-Chairperson: Prof. Veena Sikri
SAF Secretary: Mr. P K Prabhakaran - Contact email