Anand denied honorary doctorate by bureaucracy

The inexplicable bureaucratic stalling by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), and the consequent falling through, of the proposal to award an honorary doctorate to World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand and Prof. David Mumford of Harvard University has caused a major embarrassment to the Executive Organising Committee (EOC) of the ongoing International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) 2010 in Hyderabad.

The proposal to honour Mr. Anand had been mooted by the EOC about a year ago. This had been enthusiastically supported by the Central University of Hyderabad (UoH), which was to confer the Doctorate on Monday at a special convocation ceremony.

Indeed, Mr. Anand, who is scheduled to play simultaneous chess with 40 mathematicians on Tuesday, arrived in the city on Sunday itself in the belief that the function to honour him was going to take place as scheduled. Though Mr. Anand is supposed to have taken the incident quite sportingly, he is apparently a little upset at the Delhi babudom raising issues about his nationality. “I want my country back,” a somewhat annoyed Mr. Anand is supposed to have remarked.

From the sequence of events it would seem that there was some deliberate effort by the MHRD to kill the idea. The germ of the idea, which included asking Mr. Anand to play with mathematicians, was sown as far back as four years ago after the previous ICM in Madrid when at a dinner gathering organised by the Indian Embassy, where Mr. Anand had also been invited. Following this, the initiative was taken by M.S. Raghunathan, Chairman of the EOC, to write to Mr. Anand seeking his approval and then having the proposal cleared by the EOC as well as the organising committee of the ICM 2010.

After this, the EOC forwarded its proposal to the UoH and the proposal was fully backed by the university Vice-Chancellor. The Vice-Chancellor, in turn, had put up the proposal before the executive bodies of the university. The university Executive Committee (EC) cleared the proposal about six months ago. Meanwhile, the EOC had also conceived of the idea to similarly honour Prof. Mumford, a world renowned algebraic geometer from Harvard University and a long-term friend and associate of Indian mathematicians.

This was followed by the approvals being cleared by the university Chancellor R. Chidambaram, which took about three months. The proposals were then forwarded to the MHRD by June 2010, according to Prof. Rajat Tandon of the Department of Mathematics of the UoH, who is also the secretary of the EOC.

This set in motion a continuous battle of wits between the Ministry bureaucracy and the university. MHRD director R.D. Sahay apparently first questioned Mr. Anand's nationality and said the process required clearance by the Home Ministry as well as the Ministry of External Affairs. He apparently also questioned the university on holding a special convocation ceremony just to accommodate the convenience of foreigners!

The EOC rebutted the Ministry's contention on Mr. Anand's nationality and alongside sent all the details of Prof. Mumford. The Ministry's questioning of Mr. Anand's nationality apparently annoyed his wife so much that she immediately faxed Mr. Anand's passport and sent it on July 30. This too was immediately forwarded to the Ministry.

Then began a series of exchanges between the university Registrar and the Ministry with charges being made by the Ministry that the papers sent by the university were incomplete, with the claims of a different document ostensibly missing every time. But after repeated faxing of all the documents, about over two weeks ago, Mr. Sahay apparently finally agreed that the set of documents for the two proposals were complete, Prof. Tandon said.

However, nothing seems to be happening beyond that. This forced the EOC to impress upon the office of President, who is the Visitor to the university, to call for the documents from the Ministry to give the final mandatory signature. But even this did not seem to have had any effect on the Ministry. As a result, the entire proposal had to be shelved late on Sunday night after the EOC gave up all hopes of any chances of a positive result. While Mr. Anand was forced to spend an entire day in his hotel room, Prof. Mumford decided to leave on Sunday night itself for a travel around the country.

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 2:15:25 AM |

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