ML Sondhi, (1933 – 2003) had his education from Punjab
University (MA LLB), London School of Economics, Balliol College
Oxford, and Charles University Prague (Czechoslovakia). He
was elected Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in 1956, but
having simultaneously topped in the All-India UPCS examination,
securing the yet unsurpassed highest marks in the oral interview,
he opted for the Indian Foreign Service which sent him for
a year’s training to Balliol College, where the Rhodes
Foundation also treated him as one of their own.
first diplomatic posting (1958-1960) was at Prague as Cultural
Attaché (also for a time Charge d’Affaires) where he
developed, apart from formal professional contacts, a wide
range of connections amongst dissenting literary and cultural
circles. These interactions added to his studies of Czech
Language and Literature at Charles University, gave him unique
insights into the deeper currents of Czech society and culture.
Krishna Menon’s request he was next appointed Secretary
to the Indian delegation at the UN (1960-61),
but this only sharpened his resolve to quit the Foreign Service
which he did promptly on his return to India, when he joined
the then Indian School of International Studies as Reader in
International Relations. This was an interim berth while awaiting
the establishment of a department in East European Studies,
in anticipation of which the School sent him on a year-long
study cum liaison tour of Eastern Europe (Czechoslovakia,
Poland and Yugoslavia) and departments of East European studies
in Western Europe (Switzerland, Germany, Britain) and the USA
(Columbia, Harvard, Washington).
was also a Member of the Symposium on Conflict in Society,
London 1965, which founded the academic discipline of Peace
Research and Conflict Resolution.
this time also, the Sondhis started publication of the monthly
review Shakti, with Madhuri Sondhi as editor, judged by the
Times Literary Supplement after a year of its publication
as one of the twenty best journals in the Commonwealth. Shakti’s
Statement of Aims were fourfold: to seek an understanding
of Indian politics with reference to a higher interpretation
of Indian social and political doctrines; to effectively fight
dogmatism and revive ‘frontier thinking’; to develop
forms of communication which restore fearlessness and abjure
the dependencies of the colonised mind; and to emphasise human
rights and freedoms to which the Indian tradition is committed.
1967 ML Sondhi was elected Member of Parliament from New Delhi
on a Bharatiya Jana Sangha ticket, and served a term during
which he earned a reputation for being a formidable and eloquent
parliamentarian. He was appointed Member of the Parliamentary
Committee for Foreign Affairs and was also Secretary to the
BJS Parliamentary Party. Apart from energetic work for his
constituency, he took special interest in external and strategic
affairs and made memorable contributions to the debates on
the NPT, the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia and West
Pakistan’s aggression on its Eastern sector in 1970.
In public he took up such causes as Tibet, Bangla Desh,
the Frontier Gandhi, the legacy of Subhas Bose, apart from
multifarious concerns relating to the citizens of Delhi. He
was especially responsive to the woes of innocent victims,
and could claim responsibility for the release of young Trilok
Chand Gupta imprisoned in a Pakistani jail after accidentally
straying across the border, opf Sukumar Bose locked up in
a Polish communist prison after protesting the invasion of
Prague by Warsaw troops, and nearer home, relief for internationally
recognised cosmic ray scientist PS Gill who was the subject
of government harassment in Chandigarh. In 1971 he published
Non-Appeasement, A New Direction for Indian Foreign Policy
Regrettably the School, on grounds of his membership of a
right-wing party, failed to utilise his services when they
ultimately, a couple of decades later, introduced Eastern
Europe as part of the Soviet Studies department. So he continued
teach in the Department of International Relations where he
introduced highly popular courses on Peace and Conflict
Studies and Super Powers and the Third World.
ISIS merged with Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1971 and Professor
Sondhi continued to teach. Shakti was reborn as the
Shakti Sunday Newspaper with ML Sondhi as Chairman
of its Editorial board, the first Indian offset-printed Sunday
broadsheet of its kind, but had to close during the Emergency.
The Eighties were marked by the seminars of the Group of Eighty
of which he was Convenor, which
took up a range of topics relating to national, political,
economic and international affairs.
was the Indian nominator for the Nobel Prize awarded to the
Dalai Lama in 1989, and Member of the Nominating Panel of
the Gitelson-Meyerowitz Peace Award, 1990, which went to Simone
Weill. After retirement in 1995 Prof. Sondhi was appointed
Distinguished Scholar in JNU till 2001.
worked in the Intellectual and Foreign Policy cells of the
Bharatiya Janata Party and remained on its National Executive
through the eighties and nineties. He was appointed Member
of the Sardar Patel Foundation in 1999, and Chairman of the
Indian Social Science Research Council in 2000. In the same
year Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government, APJ
Abdul Kalam appointed him member of the Consultative Group
of Departments on Science & Technology. In 2002 he launched
his own Institute for Asia-Pacific Security.
published How India and Pakistan make Peace in 2001,
and other books
include, with Prakash Nanda, Vajpayee’s Foreign Policy
Daring the Irreversible, 1999, with KG Tyagi, Asia-Pacific
Security Globalisation and Development, 2001; with Apratim
Mukarji, The Black Book of Gujarat, 2002; with Ashok
Kapur, US and India Changing Strategic Parameters,
2002, and with Madhuri Santanam Sondhi, Hinduism’s
Human Face, 2002.
is survived by his wife, the philosopher Madhuri Santanam
Sondhi, and two sons Shivaji, a physicist, and Vivekananda,
a mathematician working in finance.