In a demonstration that Yale’s interests in Asia extend far south of the Great Wall, the University is taking up a number of initiatives to strengthen ties to India this semester, starting with a visit from the country’s leaders in higher education.

A group of presidents and vice chancellors from a number of major Indian universities descended on the Elm City yesterday to learn how an American research university operates. The group will also meet with United States government officials to discuss the possibility of future exchange programs. The visit is a prelude to events next week, when Yale will participate in a large-scale celebration of India’s independence in New York City.

Yale President Richard Levin said the University has been focused on establishing ties with India, an emerging world power, over the past two years.

“Between China and India they have 40 percent of the world’s population,” Levin said. “It makes a lot of sense to focus there.”

Starting Sunday, the University will participate in Incredible India@60, a campaign sponsored by the Indian government and the Confederation of Indian Industry to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the country’s independence. The five-day series of events around New York City will bring together dignitaries from both the U.S. and India to discuss ways in which the South Asian nation can accelerate economic growth and social progress. The campaign will include events ranging from conferences to Indian food tasting and dance performances.

On Monday, the Yale Club of New York will host a panel discussion, to be moderated by Levin, entitled “India 2050: A Grand Strategy for India Rising.” The University will also present a panel on “Women and Global Leadership” on Tuesday.

Panelists will include prominent leaders in business and academia, such as award-winning historian Ramachandra Guha and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi SOM ’80.

Other speakers will include Ernesto Zedillo, the former president of Mexico and director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, economics professor T. N. Srinivasan, and University Secretary Linda Koch Lorimer. Thirty Yale students will travel to New York City to staff these events.

The University is wise to increase ties with India as the country becomes evermore prominent on the world stage, said George Joseph, assistant secretary of international affairs at Yale and director of the University’s contribution to Incredible India@60.

“It’s clear that America and Yale need to have an engagement with India and work to facilitate communication and cultural understanding,” he said.

Working closely with Indian officials is not new for the University. In spring 2005, a large delegation of Yale administrators traveled to India and met with government leaders to boost the University’s visibility in the country and jump-start student recruitment in the area. The following spring, the School of Management conducted a business study trip that sent 20 graduate students to India to learn more about the country’s potential future as an economic powerhouse.

Phyllis Granoff, the director of undergraduate studies for South Asian Studies, said these events come at a time of mounting academic interest in India. Granoff said that while interest in China has been strong and growing for several years, academic curiosity in South Asia is a more recent development.

“There’s no question that India has an increasingly important role here in our programs at Yale,” she said.

The South Asian Studies program was unanimously approved by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences last May for introduction this fall. Currently, 128 students from India attend Yale University, with 29 of those students enrolled in the College. India ranks second after China in the number of undergraduate international students here.

Tina Thomas ’09, whose family is from India, said she is pleased to see the University showing an awareness of the country’s growing strength and demonstrating a desire to become involved in its development.

“I think India is a power now, and I think it’ll continue rising in the future,” said Thomas, a member of the South Asian Society on campus. “It’s really fantastic to know that Yale wants to learn more about and devote so much energy to this.”

Joseph said the University hopes to continue interactions with India and will host a large delegation of Indian Parliament members in October.