Former diplomat, writer, artist, philanthropist and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador since 2000, Madanjeet Singh, 88, passed away in Beaulieu-sur-Mer in the south of France on Sunday after suffering a stroke.
Passionate in his commitment to South Asian regional cooperation and solidarity, he founded the South Asian Foundation (SAF) by making a personal financial contribution in 2000. The SAF focuses on providing educational opportunities for the youth across the region.
Born in Lahore on April 16, 1924, Singh graduated from the Lahore Government College and then pursued an M Sc in Technical Chemistry from the Italian Institute for Middle and Far East in Rome.
Singh’s commitment to communal harmony, pluralistic and secular values was born out of his experience of witnessing the Partition at a tender age. In 1942 he was arrested during the Quit India Agitation. In 1972, he was awarded the Tamrapatra for freedom fights. In 2006, Singh refused a Padma award, saying that there was no higher award than the Tamrapatra for freedom fighters, which he had already received.
In the time that he was with the Indian Foreign Service (1953 to 1982), he served in Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Laos, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, USSR and South Vietnam. He was also an Ambassador in Colombia, Rwanda, Burundi and Finland, and a High Commissioner in Uganda.
Later, between 1982 and 1985, Singh went on to work with the UNESCO in Paris as Director in the Cultural Sector. The UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence, is supported by a donation by him and officially honours “his lifelong commitment to the cause of peace and tolerance”.
Some of the books and monographs written by the illustrious diplomat include Painting from Ajanta Caves (1954), This My People (1989), The Sun in Myth and Art (1993), The Timeless Energy of the Sun (1998), The Sasia Story (2005), and The Oral and Intangible Heritage of South Asia (2007).
The artist in him was first noticed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who had sponsored him for a scholarship abroad. Singh’s work was first exhibited at the 1953 Biennale in Venice and some of his works have been purchased by the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm. He also produced an award-winning documentary in Rome on the Buddhist paintings in Ajanta Caves.
Singh is survived by his partner of many years and SAF Trustee, France Marquet, and his son, Jeet Singh.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled the demise of Singh in New Delhi. He conveyed his condolences to Singh’s family and friends, a PMO release said. “Madanjeet, a humanist and philanthropist, had conceived institutions to provide valuable service in the common goal of building a better and closer South Asia and was recognised as an ambassador of peace and goodwill,” it said.