India is taking steps to expand links with Russian universities in an effort to reach out to this country’s younger generation.
During a visit to Tatarstan, Russia’s predominantly Muslim republic, last week India’s Ambassador to Russia Ajai Malhotra signed an agreement on establishing a Centre of Indian Studies at the Kazan Federal University that will be headed by an Indian professor.
It is the first Russian university outside Moscow to sign such a collaborative tie-up with India in social sciences. There is a Mahatma Gandhi Chair at the Institute of Philosophy and an economics chair at the Russian University for Humanities.
According to Ambassador Malhotra, plans are under consideration to set up Indian chairs or study centres at five more universities in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok and Krasnodar.
“We need to spread information about achievements and capabilities of each other,” he said.
Academic ties between Indian and Russian universities in humanities were strongest in Soviet times but were then largely confined to Moscow and St. Petersburg.
“It’s very good that the Indian embassy has now set its sights on Russian regions,” said Prof. Andrei Volodin of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy. “Kazan is a perfect choice to start with.”
The Kazan University, one of the oldest universities in Russia, had Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Lenin among its students, and Jawaharlal Nehru visited it in 1955.
Prof. Volodin revealed that the Russian Diplomatic Academy has also agreed to set up a centre of Indian studies, where Indian and Russian scholars will work.
“Such centres should focus on studying India’s valuable experience in economic and political reforms. I’m sure this knowledge will be in high demand in Russia now that Vladimir Putin, who takes credit for building privileged strategic partnership with India, has returned as President.”
The scholar voiced the hope that Indian centres will help train more Russian experts in India in order to raise the level of Russian Indology, which declined after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
In projecting its soft power in Russia India lags far behind China, which has set up 19 Confucius Institutes at Russian universities since 2004 when the programme was launched globally.