Yale’s St. Thomas More Chapel looks nothing like New Delhi’s Parliament House. But last week, after traveling more than 7,200 miles, a dozen members of India’s Parliament set up shop on Park Street for a five-day conference sponsored by the University.
The event marked the debut of the India-Yale Parliamentary Leadership Program, an initiative designed to pair emerging and mid-career Indian politicians with Yale faculty in order to discuss and propose solutions to some of the most pressing issues in the United States and India. Since 2004, the University has hosted similar programs for politicians hailing from China, Japan, Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates.
“We’ve looked for ways for Yale to engage with the emerging leaders in various counties – particularly those countries that we regard as those that will figure most critically in global political affairs and economics affairs over the next century,” George Joseph, Yale’s assistant secretary for international affairs, said.
Once in New Haven, the world leaders are freed from the hustle and bustle of their capital, the media and the distractions of day-to-day governing, Joseph said. In their new-found peace and quiet, the visiting politicians can talk about issues in an off-the-record manner and debate policy without worrying about politics, he said.
On Saturday, the visiting statesmen attended lectures by faculty at the Yale School of Management. The program tackled issues related to economic and social development in India, affirmative action, climate change, sustainable development, foreign investment and energy security.
All are topics politicians in India have confronted and will continue to face in the future. But the background and data the Yale professors presented were new to many of the politicians, one participant said.
BJ Panda, a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, said he was interested to learn about affirmative action in America, the ways those policies have evolved over the years and how U.S. courts have ruled on various programs.
“It makes us think,” Panda said. “It’s mind-blowing, some of the stuff that’s been thrown at us … It’s in-depth, it’s backed up with data, it’s backed up with controversial new thinking and [it] challenges our prejudices and perceptions.”
The program’s allure lies in the opportunity it offers world leaders to immerse themselves in innovative scholarship, organizers said. The program “underscores Yale’s long-standing commitment to educating our students for service and leadership,” University President Richard Levin said in a statement.
“The program will provide the parliamentarians with opportunities to critically think about the challenges of leadership and to explore freely, away from the legislative arena, the issues facing India,” Levin said in the statement.
The visiting politicians are now in Washington, D.C., for a three-day series of meetings with government and business officials. They arrived in New Haven on Oct. 9 and departed for Washington on Sunday.
The program – which was sponsored by the University in collaboration with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the India-U.S. Forum of Parliamentarians – may become an annual event, Joseph said.