PROFILE

Professor 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.

His 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.

 

 

At 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).

He was also a Member of the Symposium on Conflict in Society, London 1965, which founded the academic discipline of Peace Research and Conflict Resolution.

About 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.

   

In 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.

The 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.

He 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.

He 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.

He 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.

He is survived by his wife, the philosopher Madhuri Santanam Sondhi, and two sons— Shivaji, a physicist, and Vivekananda, a mathematician working in finance.