May 23, 2019 | 66° F

Rutgers cosponsors conference discussing aspects of democracy in India

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 Mohini Mukherjee, the associate director of International Student Services, gave the opening remarks for the conference. She spoke about the connection and engagement that Rutgers has sustained with India and other universities. 

On Feb. 22, Rutgers, along with the Consulate General of India and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), co-sponsored a conference concerning democracy in India.

This conference, held on the College Avenue campus and titled “Delivering Democracy: The Indian Experience,” featured “eminent scholars, diplomats and business and think tank leaders who were invited to discuss India’s democratic, economic and social achievements,” according to the Rutgers Global website.

The welcoming remarks, which started off the program, were presented by Mohini Mukherjee, the associate director of International Student Services at Rutgers. In her speech, Mukherjee highlighted the strong connection and engagement that Rutgers has maintained with India and its universities. 

The conference brought together experts to discuss governance, society, the economy and how these forces interact in India. These topics were divided and discussed by three different panels, with each panel comprised of several experts in the respective field.

In the first panel, which focused on democracy and the economy, Ashwini Kumar Tewari, the country head (US Operations) for the State Bank of India, was the first to speak. Tewari brought up the issue of poverty in India, along with the steps that the Indian government and India have taken and plan on taking to combat poverty. 

During his talk, he said one major factor that fueled systematic poverty is the lack of economic freedom and that 42 percent of people did not have access to banks in the past. Without access to banks, people were unable to save, which led to a decrease in investments, overall reducing the amount of loans given out.

Tewari said the most important way to fight the issue was to increase financial inclusion, which several governments have established through various programs. He cited the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, which was a national mission created in 2014 that aimed to bring about more financial inclusion of households in India.

“The plan envisages universal access to banking facilities with at least one basic banking account for every household, financial literacy, access to credit, insurance and pension facility,” he said.

Two other experts who spoke on the first panel were Syed Zafar Islam, the independent director of Air India and Hirsh Vardhan Singh, the senior director for the company Hi-Tec Systems. Islam discussed the efforts of the Bharatiya Janata Party, one of the political parties in power in India, to achieve social justice for all under the slogan “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas,” which translates to “Collective Efforts, Inclusive Growth.” 

The second panel of the conference analyzed democracy and public participation in elections. One of the speakers featured was Sen. Vin Gopal (D-N.J.), who addressed the importance of voting and how to encourage voter turnout in the Indian community.

Another speaker in the second panel was Milind Kamble, the chairman of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who emphasized the success of recent government initiatives to increase skilled workers in India, especially within communities of lower socioeconomic status. He said some of these initiatives included the Stand-Up India scheme, the MUDRA scheme and the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana scheme.

Other prominent speakers that took the stage later on in the conference included Consul General of India Sandeep Chakravorty, who spoke in the third panel, “Governance and Democracy in India,” and Shatrughna Sinha, the deputy consul general of India.

This conference was the first ICCR-Rutgers India Conference, and both sides expressed confidence that this will be an annual feature, according to India New England News. Another recent development regarding Rutgers’ engagement with India is the signing of the memorandum of understanding for the establishment of the ICCR Visiting Lectureship in Contemporary Indian Studies, solidifying plans for further academic exchanges between India and Rutgers.

Samarth Thakker

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