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EUIndia60 Legends Coffee Table Book

The coffee table book, a collection of 60 legends who shaped EU-India relations as we see them today, was released at the European Parliament by Mr Soren Gade, Member of European Parliament - Denmark/ Chairman - EU Delegation for Relations with India. It was released in the presence of Members of the European Parliament from Germany, Ms Svenja HahnInvest India CEO Mr  Deepak Bagla and IIM Shillong Chairman Shishir Bajoria

EICBI EUIndia60 legends book
Presenting EUIndia60 legends - 60 leaders who have shaped EU India relations over the past 60 years
 

From the time I started pursuing my passion for promoting trade and relations in the EU India corridor over ten years ago, I was always keen to know the stories of those men and women who took the initiative to build those EU India relationships when there were none.

 

EUIndia60 Legends Coffee Table is the first step in those directions. We are trying to know the stories of those who played a role in bringing about closer relations between the EU and India. EUIndia60 Legends Coffee Table book has been our most awaited work as we were keen to showcase the stories of 60 legends whom EICBI believes have played a key role in influencing EU-India relations over the past 60 years. The year 2022 marked the 60 years of the establishment of EU-India relations. Through this coffee table book, we wanted to showcase the profile of those men and women who have contributed to stronger EU-India relations through their work.

 

This book aims to inspire the next generation of influencers in the EU India corridor. As the famous scientist Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants” we hope that standing on the shoulders of EUIndia60 legends will propel the next generation of EU India influencers to make discoveries, insights, or progress owing to the findings of previous work of the EUIndia60 legends. 

 

We are glad to partner with The Diplomatist magazine to release this coffee table book. The Diplomatist magazine has been focused on sharing news related to international relations and foreign affairs for the past 25 years and under the leadership of Ms Linda Hawke, it has become India’s premier diplomatic magazine which features views and perspectives from thought leaders and influencers across geographies.

 

I would like to stress the point that the EUIndia60 Legends list is indicative only and non-exhaustive and only includes influencers whose work was either put forward by EuropeIndia40 leaders or the EICBI team had come about as part of the research. It is possible that several other legends contributed to building stronger EU-India relations through their activities and are not part of the EUIndia60 legends list. EUIndia60 legends list is our humble attempt to raise awareness about those leaders whose work can be used as a reference by the current generation and future generation of EU-India leaders.

 

Sujit S Nair., MBA., MSc, FRSA

Chairperson

Europe India Centre for Business and Industry.

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Amarnath Sehgal - INDIA

Sculptor, painter, philosopher and poet 

A Padma Bhushan awardee, Amarnath Sehgal was a renowned Indian sculptor, painter, philosopher and poet. Born in Pakistan in 1922, Amarnath Sehgal shifted to India with his family after the partition. The horrors he witnessed during these times trickled into his art. Despite having graduated with a degree in the Sciences, he decided to pursue his passion for art. In 1948, he moved to New York to study art, only to return to India three years later, where he played a role in reviving the folk arts of Punjab and Haryana.
In 1979, he moved to Luxembourg, where he was invited to set up a studio by the then Prime Minister. His bronze bust of Mahatma Gandhi in Luxembourg’s Municipal park was inaugurated in 1973 in the company of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Gaston Thorn and the Ambassador of India to Luxembourg, K. B. Lall.


His artwork is displayed in numerous public and private collections worldwide, such as the Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the 20th Century Museum of Vienna and Berlin, the Israel Museum and the National Gallery of Modern Art. 
 

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Amrta Suryananda Maha Raja - PORTUGAL

Yoga guru and scholar

Born in Portugal in 1952, Amrta Suryananda Maha Raja began his study of yoga from Swami Krishnananda and Swami Chidananda of the Shivananda Ashram in Rishikesh in the Himalayas. He has also been influenced by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, Satyananda and Ramakrishna, amongst others.


Guru Amrta Suryananda Maha Raja has played a vital role in preserving, promoting and researching the ancient philosophy of Samkhya, which is integral to the essence of primaeval yoga. He is the founder and President of the Yoga Samkhya Institute and serves as the President of the Portuguese Yoga Confederation. He was pivotal in pushing for the declaration of an International Day of Yoga which the UN officially adopted in 2014.


He has authored two books, ' Chakra Sutra – The 7 Main Chakra in Yoga’ and ‘Samkhya, Cosmo genesis and Yoga – Beyond Hydrogen’. As of today, he has been working on two other projects - the translation of Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutra’ to Portuguese and the compilation of an encyclopaedia on yoga.


In 2015, he was conferred the Padma Shri by the Government of India. 

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Angela Merkel - GERMANY

Politician 

Angela Dorothea Merkel served as the first female and youngest Chancellor of Germany from 2005-21, becoming Germany’s second-longest serving Chancellor. With a science background, having worked at the Academy of Sciences in East Berlin, her political career began in 1989 when she joined the Democratic Awakening party, followed by the Christian Democratic Union in 1990.
With India being one of the few countries with which Germany holds Cabinet-level Intergovernmental Consultations (IGC), the Indo-German partnership has evolved in different spheres during Merkel’s tenure. During her visit to India in 2019 for the 5th IGC, PM Modi and Chancellor Merkel recognised and reaffirmed partnerships in AI, digital transformation, infrastructure, sustainable development, green energy, biodiversity and preservation of culture and heritage. She has visited India four times during her tenure and has been crucial in cementing the friendship between India and Germany built on mutual trust, shared values and joint interests.


 

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Annette Schmiedchen - GERMANY 

Indologist and researcher

Born in 1966, Annette Schmeiden is a German Indologist, author and researcher specialising in Sanskrit and Kannada epigraphy and the pre-modern history of India. She received PhD from Humboldt University in 1994 as well as a Habilitation from  the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in 2009 for thesis in related domains, universities which she has continued to be affiliated with as researcher and faculty member of Indology. She is also an honorary research fellow of the International Association of Sanskrit Studies. She has been associated with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Jawaharlal Nehru University, receiving support during research trips to India. 


She is one of the Principal Investigators of the 6 year joint multi-disciplinary DHARMA (The Domestication of Hindu 'Asceticism and the Religious Making of South and Southeast Asia) project launched in 2019 and funded by the European Union’s Research and Innovation Programme Horizon 2020.


In 2015, she was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India for her immense contribution to research in Indology and the Sanskrit language. 

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Antonio Costa - PORTUGAL

Politician

Fondly called ‘Babush’ (a Konkani term of endearment) as a child, the Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa has roots from his father’s side in Goa, a former Portuguese colony in India where his grandfather was born and raised.


During his political career, he has held several positions, including  Minister of Justice (1999-2002), Deputy to the European Parliament from June 2004 to March 2005 and Vice-President of the European Parliament, and Mayor of Lisbon City Hall (2007-15).


Dubbed the ‘Gandhi of Lisbon’ for having transformed the crime-infested neighbourhood of Mouraria during his time as Mayor of Lisbon, Costa has been serving as the Prime Minister of Portugal since 2015. 


He made a state visit to India in 2017, having been invited to be the chief guest at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Bengaluru, and has also paid a visit to his ancestral home in Goa. He also hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi later that year, during which he was presented with an Overseas Citizen of India card. This marked the first-ever bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Portugal. 

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Asko Parpola - FINLAND

Indologist, scholar and professor

Asko Parpola is an eminent Finish Indologist, scholar and professor emeritus of Indology and South Asian Studies at the University of Helsinki who specialises in the Indus Valley Civilisation and its script. His contributions to the scientific study of the Indus script, as well as his research towards proving the Dravidian character of the Indus script, have earned him the honour of being the first-ever person to be awarded the  Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award from the Central Institute of Classical Tamil in Chennai in 2009.


Professor Parpola has contributed significantly to and co-edited the three volumes of the ‘Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions - a comprehensive catalogue of the photos of Indus seals and inscriptions. His book ‘The Roots of Hinduism: The Early Aryans and the Indus Civilization, a culmination of over 50 years of research decoding the roots of Hinduism and the Indus religion and language, was published in 2015. 

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee - INDIA

Politician and poet

Former Prime Minister of India Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was instrumental in boosting India’s economic growth and advancements in information technology.


He has also served as Minister of External Affairs (1977-79) and is one of the founding members of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He was also a renowned Hindi poet, orator and author of several prose works. His stirring poems touched upon themes such as patriotism, oppression, universal humanity and Hindu pride.


As Prime Minister, he represented India at the first-ever EU-India summit in Lisbon in 2000 and subsequent meetings during his tenure. He was crucial in laying the groundwork for India’s external engagements with Europe and fostering her friendship, cooperation and bilateral ties with the EU member countries. The French government has credited him for shaping the Indo-French strategic partnership.


He was conferred with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, in 2015. 

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Audrius Beinorius - LITHUANIA

Indologist, researcher and professor

Audrius Beinorius is a Lithuanian philosopher, an Indologist and a specialist in Buddhist studies. He moved to India for a four-year stint to pursue his doctoral studies in Indology and Indian languages at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture in Calcutta with the support of the Government of India and the Open Society Foundation of Lithuania. He is currently a Professor of Indology and Buddhist Studies at Vilnius University and has served as the Director of the Centre for Oriental Studies. 

His areas of research include classical and contemporary Indian and Asian philosophy and religions, history of Buddhism, early schools of Yoga, history of oriental studies, Eastern aesthetics and comparative culturology


He has authored several research publications and articles in English. Lithuanian, Polish and Russian. He is also well known for having translated the Buddhist work ‘Dhammapada’ from Pali (2005) and the Upanishads from Sanskrit (2007, 2013) and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. 

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Barry Gardiner - UNITED KINGDOM

Politician

Born in Glasgow in 1957, Gardiner was enrolled in an English boarding school after his father's death. He returned to Scotland and went on to marry his childhood sweetheart; the couple settled in West Pilton. Having won a John F. Kennedy Scholarship to do research at Harvard, he left for the United States in 1983. During his doctoral studies at Cambridge, he was elected councillor of Cambridge city in 1988 and subsequently became its youngest mayor in 1992. During his career, he has served as the Minister for Competitiveness in the Department of Trade & Industry, the Minister for Biodiversity, Direct Rule Minister in the Northern Ireland Office and  Shadow Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries.

From 2016-2020, he served as the Labour Party’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade and Shadow Minister for International Climate Change. He has been an MP for Brent North since 1997. 

Gardiner was the founder and Chair of Labour Friends of India. Recognising his contributions to public affairs and India-UK ties, the Government of India awarded him the Padma Shri in 2020. 

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Ben Kingsley - UNITED KINGDOM

Actor

Born Krishna Bhanji in Yorkshire in 1943, Ben Kingsley is a renowned British actor acclaimed for portraying the role of Mahatma Gandhi in Attenborough’s eponymous biographical film, Gandhi, a role for which he won the Academy Award for Best actor as well as the BAFTA award for Best Actor in a leading role. With Gujarati roots on his father’s side, Kingsley began his professional acting career by joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1967. Following his role as Gandhi, Kingsley starred in several films, including Betrayal (1983), Bugsy (1991), Schindler’s List (1993) and Twelfth Night (1996). 

Kingsley was appointed Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen in 2002 and was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1984. 

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Bernard Peters - DENMARK

Physicist and professor

Bernard Peters was a physicist born in Posen, Poland, in 1910 who specialised in  Cosmic Radiation and Geophysics. He later moved to Germany, where his anti-Nazi stance brought him to Dachau in 1993. He emigrated to the USA, where he met Robert Oppenheimer, who initially became his teacher, friend and mentor but testified against him on charges of communism. 

Welcomed to India by Dr Homi Bhabha, Peters spent eight years in Bombay and was a favourite amongst students at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. He left for Denmark in 1958 to work at the Bohr Institute, and in a few years, he went on to become the director of the Danish Space Research Institute. 

Peters was elected Fellow of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences, Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, and American Physics Society, as well as Honorary Fellow of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. He was also conferred with the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India. He passed away in Copenhagen in 1993. 

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Bettina Baumer - AUSTRIA

Indologist and scholar

Bettina Baumer is an Austrian Indologist, scholar, and advocate of Kashmiri Shaivism. She has been studying Indian texts, particularly those of Acharya Abhinavagupta, since 1976 and has been involved in translating many readers to German and English. She has collaborated with researchers, artists and Indologists like Alice Boner and Professor Raimon Panikkar. She served as the President of the Abhishiktananda Society from 1988–2007 and co-chaired the 15th World Sanskrit Conference in New Delhi in 2012. She was one of the leaders of the Kalatattvakosa project initiated by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and was editor of the Kalatattvakosa: a Lexicon of Fundamental Concepts of the Indian Arts published by the organisation. She has also coordinated courses on Hindu-Christian dialogue in Austria and Switzerland. 

Baumer is a visiting professor at the University of Vienna, the University of Salzburg and the University of Berne and an advisor to the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue. 

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Bob Blackman - UNITED KINGDOM

Politician

Robert Blackman has been the Member of Parliament of the Conservative party for Harrow East since 2010.  He served as the Leader of Brent Council between 1991 and 1996 and Deputy leader between 2006 and 2010. He also served as the Conservative Group Whip on the London assembly. He was a  Member of the Budget Committee and the Deputy Chair of the Economic Development, Culture, Sport and Tourism Committee. 

Dubbed ‘one of India’s strongest friends in the British Parliament for his support of the world’s largest democracy, he chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Hindus and is the vice-chairman of India's All-Party Parliamentary group. He was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, by the Government of India in 2020 for playing a crucial role in strengthening India-UK ties. He dedicated the award to the Indian diaspora in the UK. He has visited India around seven times in the last few years. 

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Camille Bulcke - BELGIUM

Jesuit priest and scholar

Father Camille Bulcke was a distinguished Hindi and Sanskrit scholar. A Jesuit priest from Belgium, Father Bulcke first arrived in India as a missionary in 1935. He vowed to master the Hindi language in a country in which, unfortunately, the English language seemed to enjoy growing importance. 

He was inspired by Tulsidas' Ramcharitmanas and drew parallels with Christ’s ideals. He received a doctorate in Hindi from Allahabad University and set up the Hindi and Sanskrit Department at St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi, where his mortal remains lie. 

His English-Hindi Glossary (1955) and English-Hindi dictionary (1968) were revolutionary projects, the latter very popular in households in Bihar and Jharkhand and to this day remains the most widely used in the whole of North India. 

He was a founder-member of Bihar Sahitya Academy. In 1974, Bulcke was conferred with the Padma Bhushan by the President of India for his unparalleled contributions to Hindi literature. 

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Carlos González Vallés S.J. (Father Vallés) - SPAIN

Jesuit priest and professor

Father Vallés was a Jesuit priest from Logroño, Spain, who had made Gujarat his home. He moved to India in 1949, earned a degree in Mathematics from the prestigious Madras University, and graduated in first class in 1953. He started teaching mathematics in Ahmedabad in 1960 while mastering the Gujarati language. He has published over 70 books in Gujarati that touch upon various themes ranging from marriage, youth, family, society and religion, contributing to a novel-writing style in Gujarati. He also wrote extensively in English and Spanish. He helped launch Suganitam, the first mathematical review in an Indian language and contributed many articles and stories to the Gujarat Samachar’s Sunday edition. 

 

In 1978, he was the first and only foreigner awarded the Ranjitram Suvarna Chandra, the highest award in Gujarati literature. He passed away in 2020 and was posthumously awarded the Padma Shri in 2021 for his contributions to literature and education.

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David Cameron - UNITED KINGDDOM

Politician

David Cameron served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2010 to 2016. From the lineage of King William IV, he studied at Eton. He graduated from Oxford University with a degree in politics, philosophy and economics, after which he joined the Conservative Party. 

Besides the role of Prime Minister, he has held several positions such as Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, member of the influential House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee from 2001 to 2003 and Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills. He was elected the leader of the Conservative party in 2005. He resigned from his post as a leader and Prime Minister of the UK in 2016 in light of the UK’s exit from the European Union. 

During his tenure as Prime Minister, he participated in the welcome event organised at Wembley for PM Modi’s visit to the UK. In turn, he made several official state visits to India for bilateral talks and discussions. He has delved into his ties and the UK’s relationship with India in his memoirs, having primarily engaged with the Indian community in the UK during his terms as Prime Minister. He was a proponent of a new ‘Special Relationship’ of the UK with India when he came to power in 2010. 

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Dominique Lapierre - FRANCE

Author

Born in Châtelaillon, this French author moved to the States during his teens, and this experience inspired his first book, ‘A Dollar For A Thousand Kilometres’. He loved India and Kolkata in particular, which has inspired his other books like ‘The City Of Joy’, ‘Freedom At Midnight’ (co-authored with Larry Collins), etc. 

Now 90 years old, Dominique Lapierre has been regularly visiting India for the past fifty years. His book titled ‘India mon amour’ describes his experience in India. Awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2008, he has also donated half his royalties to help run charities in India. He set up ‘The City Of Joy Foundation’, a non-profit organisation in Kolkata, in 2008. In an interview, he says he got a lot of love and support from the people of India while trying to research his books. He speaks fluent Bengali and describes his experience in India as very emotional.

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Dušan Zbavitel - CZECH REPUBLIC

Indologist and scholar

A Czech indologist, Dušan Zbavitel was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2006. He graduated from Charles University in Prague, where he studied Indology and Comparative Indo-European Philology. He taught Bengali and Sanskrit and focused his research on Rabindranath Tagore, Bengali folk poetry and the history of Bengali literature. On account of a century since the birth of Tagore, Zbavitel put together three volumes of Tagore’s works translated into Czech. He has also published seven articles, research papers, and a monograph on the Bengali poet. He published ‘Bengali Literature’, an article about the history of Bengali literature, for which he was awarded the Rabindra Puraskar by the West Bengal Government in 1977. He was an exceptional translator and was awarded the State Award For Translation in 2004 for the translation of the Upanishads. His translations were mainly from Bengali but also from Sanskrit, Pali and German. He will be remembered for his contribution to the popularisation of Indology and India in Czechoslovakia.

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Emmanuel Macron - FRANCE

Politician

French President Emmanuel Macron has maintained a good relationship with Indian PM Narendra Modi. The two hosted the Founding Summit of the International Solar Alliance in New Delhi in 2018. Since the prime ministership of A B Vajpayee, India has had good relations with France and Macron’s re-election assures strengthening of those relations. Macron invited Modi to attend the G-7 Summit in 2021, though India is not a member. Macron visited India in 2018 and was received by Modi in New Delhi, where they held bilateral talks. Both sides have sought to deepen France’s participation in ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, a campaign for a self-reliant India. As recently as May 2022, Modi visited France to hold talks with Macron regarding improving India-France relations amid the Russia-Ukraine war. This meeting is a powerful determinant in the Indo-French partnership only days after Macron's re-election. The friendship between PM Modi and President Macron has strengthened the ties between the two countries.

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Friederike Irina Bruning - GERMANY

Social activist

Now known as Sudevi Mataji or Sudevi Dasi, Bruning has contributed immensely to the protection of cows in India. She came to India from Germany in 1971, where she bought a cow and learnt Hindi. Now she tends to more than 1800 cows and has been for the past 25 years in the Braj area of Uttar Pradesh. She is the founder of the ‘Radha Surabhi Goshala’, a shelter in Braj for the protection of injured and handicapped cows. Presently, there are about 60 workers, and she manages their salaries, food and medicine for the cows. She received the prestigious Padma Shri award in 2019 for her work toward animal welfare. Recognising her work, the Indian actress Hema Malini was of great help to Bruning in securing a long-term visa in India, going to the extent of contacting the External Affairs Minister regarding the same. She continues to reside in India (Radha Kund) and has been influenced by its culture, religion and tradition.

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Heinrich von Stietencron - GERMANY

Indologist and professor

Born in Switzerland, Heinrich von Stietencron was a German Indologist and the Director of the Institute of Indology and Comparative Religion at the University of Tübingen. After receiving a grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG), he wrote a thesis on the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna. His work on the Jagannath Temple in Orissa as part of the ‘Orissa Project’ by DFG. He worked as a professor and director of Indology at Tübingen University from 1973 to 1998. He worked on a Puranic and Epic bibliography with other scholars in two projects funded by the DFG between 1982-1988 and 1995-2000. After retirement, he continued to manage two projects related to Orissa. To honour his work, he was awarded the Padma Shri in 2004 by President Pranab Mukherjee. He received the ‘Distinguished Indologist Award’ in 2015 by the Government of India in an award ceremony connected to the World Indology Conference. A few of his well-known books are ‘Hindu Myth, Hindu History, Religion, Art and Politics’ and ‘Ganga and Yamuna: River Goddesses and Their Symbolism in Indian Temples.

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Herbert Fischer - GERMANY 

Diplomat and Indologist

A German diplomat and Indologist, Herbert Fischer was an ardent follower of Gandhi. He visited India at the age of 19, fascinated by the personality of M K Gandhi, and has described him as ‘emphatically and consciously modest’ and ‘a caring father to all. After World War 2 ended, Fischer began working for the Ministry of External Affairs of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and headed the India Division. He was then transferred to India, where he served as the Deputy Director of the GDR’s Trade Representation and later as the head of their Trade Representation in New Delhi. After the country was officially recognised in 1972, he was the first ambassador of the GDR in India. After being given a representative job only, he left his post and began working as a mentor to Indian students in the SED-party academy till his retirement. For his immense contribution to public affairs, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2003 by Prime Minister A B Vajpayee.

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Hermenegild Santapau - SPAIN

Botanist and Jesuit priest 

A Spanish botanist, Fr. Hermenegild Santapau, joined the society of Jesus in Valencia at the age of 16. After completing his education in Rome and London, Santapau worked in Eastern Pyrenees and Italian Alps, collecting plants. After working in the herbarium at Kew, he joined St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, as part of the faculty of Botany. He was appointed the Chief Botanist of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) in 1954. The Indian delegation to the tenth edition of the International Botanical Congress held at Edinburgh was headed by him. Further, he represented India at the International Standards Organisation conference of 1964 held in New Delhi. After retiring from BSI, he returned to St. Xavier’s, where he worked as a rector until his death. He was part of the Bombay Natural History Society and the Indian and Science Congress Association, among others. The credit for the Latin nomenclature for many Indian plant species goes to him. For his tremendous work in botany and education, he received several awards, including the Birbal Sahni Medal of the Indian Botanical Society, Orden De Alfonso X El Sabio, etc.

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Indira Gandhi - INDIA

Politician

Daughter of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi followed in her father’s footsteps and served as the first-ever female Prime Minister of India from 1966 to 1977 and then from 1980 to 1984. She also held the official posts of Minister of External Affairs, Minister of Space, Minister of Home Affairs and Member, Executive Board of UNESCO, to name a few. She was actively engaged in India’s struggle for Independence.

During her tenure as Prime Minister, she visited the several European States. One of the most memorable State visits was her five-nation European trip in 1983 which sparked greater European interest in India. She enjoyed good relations with several European leaders. Despite often having opposing views, she found an ally and friend in Margaret Thatcher, who helped India secure a foothold regarding its relations with the EU. 

In 1971, she was honoured with India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, for her invaluable contributions. She has also been conferred with awards such as Mothers Award from the USA, Isabella d’Este Award from Italy, 2nd Annual Medal, FAO and the Howland Memorial Prize. 

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Jacques Blamont - FRANCE

Astrophysicist and professor

Jacques Blamont was a French astrophysicist who has been a Professor of Physics at the University of Paris since 1957. He became a chief scientist and adviser to the Director-General of CNES. He was the French space agency's first scientific and technical Director of Science and Technology, the CNES. He gave the payload for the first Indian rocket launch in 1963, followed by the Centaure rocket launch in 1964 and was invited back to mark 40 years of India’s Space Programme. Further, he helped V Sarabhai start ISRO with the support of CNES and is considered the ‘father’ of India’s space programme. His works include ‘Vénus dévoilée ‘ and ‘Le chiffre est le songe’. He has received many awards, including the Medal of the International Academy of Astronautics, the Vikram Sarabhai Medal, and the Padma Shri in 2015.

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Jacques Chirac - FRANCE

Politician 

The President of France from 1995 to 2007, Jacques Chirac, played a significant role in establishing and boosting Indo-French strategic ties and enjoyed good relations with many Indian leaders. He visited India in 1998 as the Chief Guest on Republic Day and even supported India’s 1998 nuclear tests conducted at Pokhran. Under Chirac, Indo-French relations were laid down firmly. During his visit to India in 2006, they framed a nuclear deal signed in 2008. Chirac also assured PM Manmohan Singh that France would always support India’s campaign for permanent membership in the UN Security Council. During the same visit, the two decided to hold an art exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2007, displaying art from the Gupta period to promote Indian culture.

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Jawarharlal Nehru - INDIA

Politician 

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru held office as the first Prime Minister of independent India from 1947 to 1964. Born in Allahabad in 1889 to Motilal Nehru and Swaroopa Rani, he earned a degree in Natural Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge. Upon returning to India, he was greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s principles and the freedom struggle, which pushed his entry into politics, making him a leading player in India’s anti-colonial movement for independence. He was elected the president of the Lahore Session of the Indian National Congress in 1929. While imprisoned, he penned his autobiography between 1934 and 1935 called ‘Toward Freedom’. 

He was instrumental in conceiving and laying the foundations of India’s foreign policy. Nehru’s India was one of the first to establish diplomatic ties with the European Union. On the 27th of January 2022, Jawaharlal Nehru sent a letter to His Excellency Walter Hallstein, the President of the European Commission, establishing formal diplomatic relations between India and the European Economic Committee.

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Karel Werner - CZECH REPUBLIC

Indologist, professor and scholar

Born in former Czechoslovakia in 1925, Professor Karel Werner was an Indologist and Buddhist scholar. He extensively studied and taught Sanskrit and Indian philology and history. He authored a dictionary on Hinduism, of which 36 editions were published between 1994 and 2017. He is also credited with several books, including The Yogi and the mystic: studies in Indian and comparative mysticism, Yoga and Indian philosophy and The doctrine of rebirth in Eastern and Western thought.

He moved to England in 1968 and was appointed Spalding Lecturer in Indian Philosophy and Religion at Durham University. He was also a member of the Study of Religions Department at SOAS University, studying Buddhist Philosophy, early Buddhism, and Hinduism. 

Professor Karel Werner conceived the idea for the Spalding Symposium for Indic Religions in 1975 to encourage research on Indian religions. Funded by the Spalding Trust, it is now an annual event in the UK. It has successfully served as a platform for knowledge exchange, networking and the scholarly study of Indian religions. 

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Krishen Behari Lall - INDIA

Diplomat

Ambassador K. B. Lall was a distinguished member of the Indian Civil Services. Equipped with a sharp intellect and negotiation skills, he has occupied many important positions as a public servant of the Government of India. In 1962, he presented his Credentials to Mr Walter Hallstein, the first President of the European Economic Community Commission, establishing official diplomatic relations between India and the (then) European Economic Community. In 1973, he inaugurated, together with former Minister of Foreign Affairs Gaston Thorn, Amarnath Sehgal’s bronze bust of Gandhi in the Municipal Park of Luxembourg city. 

 

In 2000, the Government of India bestowed upon him the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award. 

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Leda Shantala - GREECE

Dancer-choreographer

This Greek choreographer, dancer and guru of Indian classical dance and yoga has been credited with bringing the Indian classical dance form of Bharatnatyam to the Greek audience. She has knowledge of yoga and Indian philosophy, having studied them extensively. She is a graduate of the Bharata Kalanjali dance academy and has trained in the art form of Bharatanatyam under eminent gurus Sri Adyar Lakshman, V. P. Dhananjayan, Smt. Shanta Dhananjayan and Smt. Kalanidhi Narayanan.

Leda is the founder of the Mandiram Cultural Centre, the only professional school of Indian dance in Greece. In 2003, all the centre activities were moved to the new Shantom House of Culture which offers yoga, Bharatanatyam, dance therapy and martial arts classes, as well as seminars. She founded the Leda Shantala dance theatre in 1983 and birthed numerous intercultural productions blending the ancient and the modern in collaboration with Greek, Indian and other artists across several countries.

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Liesbeth Pankaja - NETHERLANDS

Dancer and historian

Drs. Liesbeth Pankaja Bennink was a Dutch Bharatnatyam dancer and historian based in Amsterdam. Captivated by a documentary featuring Ram Gopal and his dancers that she came across during a class trip to a museum, she eventually enrolled herself in Bharatanatyam lessons under guru Rajamani, an art form to which she has dedicated her life since. In search of a more profound understanding of the ancient roots and philosophies of Indian dance, she travelled to Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, where she spent years researching the Chidambaram Nataraja temple, Shiva’s cosmic dance, astrology and other disciplines under the guidance of the late Raja Deekshithar. 

She has conducted many workshops on Indian culture and heritage and has delivered numerous lectures, especially on her beloved Chidambaram temple. She passed away in 2021, having lived a life devoted to researching, preserving and promoting India’s rich culture, heritage and ancient wisdom.

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Lothar Lutze - GERMANY 

Indologist, scholar and professor

Lothar Lutze was a German Indologist and scholar and Emeritus Professor at the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures of the Heidelberg University, before which he served as a professor at the university’s South Asia Institute from 1965 to 1992. He was also a literature and theatre enthusiast and a renowned writer and translator of modern literature in Hindi and Bengali to the German language. His works include Hindi writing in post-colonial India: a study in the aesthetics of literary production, Flags of fame: studies in South Asian folk culture, Hindi as a second language: patterns and grammatical notes and Feldarbeit.

He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2006 by the Government of India for his significant work in literature and education. He has also been conferred the Tagore Award and the Dr George Grierson Award by the Government of India. 

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Madeleine Herman de Blic - BELGIUM

Social worker

Originally from Liège in Belgium, Madeleine Herman moved to the former French colony of Puducherry in India, where her husband was stationed, after completing her studies to serve the less privileged. What was initially to be a one-year stint resulted in her becoming a naturalised Indian and making India her home. She is the founder of the Non-governmental Organisation Volontariat, which works towards helping and empowering the poor, the less privileged and the ailing. The organisation, sponsored by institutions in France and Belgium, carries out activities in different areas in and around Puducherry, including, Uppalam, Dubraypeth and Tuttipeth.

Madeleine Herman de Blic was presented with the Padma Shri in 2016 by the Government of India for her humanitarian work and the Independence Day Award by the Government of Puducherry in the same year. She has also been conferred with the Legion of Honour from the Government of France and the Officer of the Order of the Crown by the King of Belgium in 2013. 

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Mahirwan Mamtani - INDIA

Artist

Mahirwan Mamtani is a painter and the only artist from India to fully identify himself with constructivism. Born in 1935 in the town of Nawabshah in the Indus Valley, he migrated to Delhi after the partition of India, where he received a National Diploma from the Delhi School of Art in 1962. In 1966, he moved to Munich to pursue art under Prof. Franz Nagel after being awarded the German Academic Exchange Service scholarship. Some creations and projects include the  Centrovision series of over 3000 works, a series called Transmuted Photos and another called Mandala Conscious Beings. 

The artist belongs to the Neo-Tantra Art group in India and is affiliated, on the other hand, with the Spiritual in Art group of artists in Europe. His works have been displayed in several exhibitions in India, Germany and worldwide. 

In 1978, he was presented the National Award in Painting by the Lalit Kala Academy, India. 

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Manmohan Singh - INDIA

Politician

Manmohan Singh is an Indian economist and politician who served as India’s 13th Prime Minister from 2004-14. During his lifetime, he has held several positions of power, including  Chief Economic Advisor (1972–1976), governor of the Reserve Bank (1982–1985), head of the Planning Commission (1985–1987) and Minister of Finance (1991-96). He also worked for the UN from 1966 to 1969. 

He has been pivotal in strengthening the country’s ties with Japan and EU countries such as the UK, France and Germany. He represented India at several India-EU summits. He headed the Indian delegation at the 12th India EU Summit  (the first held in India after the Lisbon treaty came into force). During his term as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh paid official state visits to Germany – 4 times (counting one G-8 summit), the United Kingdom – 3 times (including a G-20 summit), France – 3 times (counting a G-20 summit), and one each to the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Finland (for an India-EU summit), and Italy (for a G-8 summit). He was also the Guest of honour at the 2009 Bastille day celebrations of France. 

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Maria Christopher Byrski - POLAND

Indologist, scholar and diplomat

Maria Christopher Byrski is a Polish Indologist, Sanskrit scholar and diplomat who served as the Polish ambassador to India from 1993 to 1996. 

Captivated by the Natyashastra as a student of Indian studies, he travelled to Banaras Hindu University, where he earned his doctorate with a thesis on Ancient Indian Theatre. Intrigued by Koodiyatam, the only surviving Sanskrit theatre, he trained in abhinaya and mudras under the late Mani Madhava Chakyar in Kerala, with Chakyar's son playing the role of the middle man to facilitate communication. 
On invitation, ambassador Byrski delivered the Parikshit Memorial International lecture in 1994, held annually to commemorate Rama Varma Parikshith Thampuran, extempore in Sanskrit. He continues to research, lecture, and engage with India, Hinduism and Sanskrit. Currently, he is working on a translation project - Mudrarakshasa by Vishakhadatta. He has also translated all of the 13 plays of Bhasa and the Kashmiri version of the Abhijnanashakuntala. 

The Government of India awarded him the Padma Shri in 2022 for his contributions to literature and education.

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Margaret Thatcher - UNITED KINGDOM

Politician 

Europe’s first woman Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. She graduated from Somerville College, Oxford, in 1947 with a degree in chemistry. In 1959 she was elected Member of Parliament for Finchley. She rose through the ranks, holding various positions in the shadow cabinet, to become the leader of the Conservative Party in 1975. She led her party to victory in 1979. During her tenure, the British economy noted a steady improvement. Her decisive politics earned her the nickname ‘Iron Lady’. 

Thatcher’s friendship with Indira Gandhi has played a part in advancing India’s relationship with the EU. As Prime Minister, she has travelled to India on state visits. She also visited India after her tenure as PM and was supportive of India's economic liberalisation efforts.

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Mark Tully - UNITED KINGDOM

Journalist

Born in Tollygunge in India in 1935, Sir William Mark Tully spent the early years of his childhood in India and was schooled briefly in Darjeeling before heading back to Britain with his family. He studied theology at Cambridge to join the Church of England but soon realised he did not have the calling to be a priest. He joined the BBC in 1964 and was appointed administrator at the BBC’s New Delhi Office and subsequently correspondent in 1971 and worked his way up to bureau chief, a position he held for over two decades. The journalist has been witness to and covered momentous events and milestones in the country's history, establishing himself as one of India's most iconic radio voices. He lives in India and has authored several fiction and non-fiction works on the country. 

 

He was knighted in 2002 and was previously conferred with Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1985. The Government of India awarded him the Padma Shri in 1995, followed by the Padma Bhushan in 2005. 

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Michael Postel - FRANCE

Pharmacologist

Michael Postel is a French pharmacologist and Founder-President of Franco-Indian Pharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd, which he established in 1949. With its headquarters in Mumbai, the reputed conglomerate boasts a team of nearly 2000 employees and exports its goods to Asia, Africa, the UK, the USA, France and other markets. The company has been vital in introducing the first oral Penicillin, the first oral cortisone, the first probiotic, and the first H1 Receptor Antagonist, amongst others, in India. Postel graduated in Pharmacology & Medicine from the École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris. Passionate about India, the country he had made his home, Postel was an avid collector of Indian art and set up the Franco-Indian Art Research dedicated to discovering and studying archaeological sites. Along with Xintian Zhu, he conceived the Musée Asiatica, a museum of Asian cultures in Biarritz that houses collections on India, China, Nepal and Tibet, among others. 

 

In 2016, the Government of India awarded the Padma Shri. 

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Milena Salvini - ITALY

Dancer 

Milena Salvini is an Italian-born French enthusiast of Indian classical dance. She moved to India in 1965 to train in Kathakali at the Kerala Kalamandalam on a scholarship and was one of the pioneers in bringing Kathakali to the West. Salvini was a patron of the arts. She regularly invited the Kalamandalam’s troupe and other artists and organised performances in France and other European countries. In 1980, she organised a European tour of an Indian Koodiyattam troupe funded by UNESCO. 

Milena Salvini co-founded the Centre Mandapa in Paris in 1975 with her husband, Roger Filipuzzi. This multicultural association organises workshops on Indian classical dance forms and hosts programmes and performances in the arts in collaboration with artists from around the world. 

She is a recipient of the Padma Shri awarded to her by the Government of India in 2019. She passed away in France in January this year.

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Morarji Desai - INDIA

Politician

Born in Gujarat in 1896, Morarji Desai was the Prime Minister of India from 1977 to 1979, making history as the first non-Congress leader to represent the country. He was a key figure in India’s struggle for independence. As a civil servant, he has held important positions in the Government - Chief Minister of Bombay, Minister of Commerce and Industry and Minister of Finance. He also briefly served as the Deputy Prime Minister of India in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet. 

During his tenure as Prime Minister, he carried out official visits to Russia and Eastern Europe, including the countries of Poland and the Czech Republic. He welcomed President of the European Commission Mr Walter Hallstein to India as Finance Minister and, in turn, visited the European Commission in May 1978 as Prime Minister. The Government of India awarded him the Bharat Ratna in 1991. 

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Narendra Modi - INDIA

Politician

Narendra Damodardas Modi has been the Prime Minister of India since coming to power in 2014, before which he held the position of Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014. He joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1987 and has led the party to unparalleled political success. Under the Modi leadership, the Government of India has brought about many reforms. Modi has been instrumental in solidifying India’s position and credibility in the global context, with several European countries reinforcing their ties and increasing their engagements with the government. His visits to Germany, France and Denmark, during which he attended the second India-Nordic summit, were of great strategic importance, particularly concerning India’s relationship with Scandinavian nations. During the visit, several agreements were signed between India and Germany to combat climate change and promote sustainable development, including the Joint Declaration of Intent (JDI) on green and sustainable development partnerships.

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Nicholas Kazanas - GREECE

Indologist, professor and scholar

Professor Nicholas Kazanas is a Greek Indologist and Scholar born on the Greek island of Chios in 1939. He was a student of Sanskrit at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and completed his post-graduation at SOAS, followed by the Deccan College in Pune. He is a professor and researcher of Vedic traditions of India, bringing about comparative studies in the Indo-European context. 

He is the director of the Omilos Meleton Cultural Institute in Athens, Greece, founded in 1976, which concerns itself with Philosophy, Comparative Mythology and Sanskrit. He has carried out several translation projects, including translating 10 Upanishads from Sanskrit to Greek. He also has several books, articles and publications to his credit.  

In 2021, he was awarded the Padma Shri, conferred upon him by the President of India for his significant work in the field of literature and education. 

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Nicolas Sarkozy - FRANCE

Politician

The French politician Nicolas Sarkozy served as President of France from 2007 to 2012. Born in 1955, he completed a Master of Advanced Studies at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris after studying law. In 1983, he became the mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine at the age of 28. He has also served as Communication Minister, Interior Minister and Finance Minister during his political career. 

During his Presidential term, Nicolas Sarkozy carried out two state visits to India, which were indispensable in bolstering Indo-French bilateral relations. He has continuously supported India's bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Having proclaimed himself as a ‘friend of India’, he continues to visit the country even after the end of his Presidency.   

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Oscar Carlsson - SWEDEN

Engineer 

Born in 1928 in Sweden, Oscar Carlsson was a Swedish engineer celebrated for designing the revolutionary Sholapur hand pump based on which the UNICEF's India Mark II was modelled. This innovation changed rural India in the 1970s. 

Originally a car mechanic and a vocational teacher in automotive engineering by profession, he led numerous water projects in countries like India, Zaire and Congo. Carlsson and his wife Ingrid lived and worked for many years in Sholapur in India, where he managed the Sholapur Well Service. He was awarded the International Swede of the year in 1988. 

Carlsson passed away in 2017. To this day, the Mark II water pump remains one of the most popular in developing nations of  Asia and Africa thanks to it's simplistic and efficient design and low maintenance cost. 

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Peter Brook - UNITED KINGDOM

Director and producer

Peter Brook is an English theatre and film director and producer. Born in Chiswick in 1925, he studied at the Magdalen College, Oxford. His directorial debut was the 1943 production of Dr Faustus at the Torch Theatre in London. His productions of Shakespeare’s plays King John (1945), Measure for Measure (1950), The Winter’s Tale (1951), Titus Andronicus (1955), Hamlet (1955), The Tempest (1957), and King Lear (1962) have been critically acclaimed. His other notable works include Lord of the Flies (1963) and Marat/Sade (1967). 

Brook is renowned for his original nine-hour French theatrical adaptation of the epic Mahabharata in collaboration with Jean-Claude Carrière and Marie-Hélène Estienne, the film version of which came out in 1989. His projects played a role in exposing Indian epics to a global audience outside of India. 

In 2021, the Government of India awarded him the Padma Shri. He has also been conferred with Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1965 and Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur in 2013. 

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Rafael Iruzubieta Fernández - SPAIN

Lawyer and Indologist

Dr Rafael Iruzubieta is a Spanish lawyer and an Indologist who has promoted Indian culture and heritage in Spain for over 40 years. He co-founded the Institute of Indology in Madrid with his wife Irene Peláez López and Dr Pedro Carrero Eras in 1995. It is an independent organisation that arranges conferences and organises courses on diverse domains concerning Indian cultures in collaboration with other institutions, public and private alike, including the Embassy of India in Spain, Casa Asia, Casa de la India and the Complutense University of Madrid. 

Recognised for his efforts, he was awarded the Padma Shri by the government of India in 2010, becoming the first-ever Spanish citizen to be bestowed the honour. 

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Rajendra. K. Jain - INDIA

Professor and researcher

Rajendra K. Jain is a professor at the Centre for European Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. He was the first Indian to be awarded the prestigious Jean Monnet Chair (2010-15) in European Integration and International Relations. He has also served as the President of the European Union Studies Association – the Asia Pacific from 2009 to 2010 as a visiting Professor and Fellow at several Universities in Asia and Europe. Dr Jain is a visiting professor at KU Leuven and served as the Chair of Indian studies at its Indian Council for Cultural Relations for 2015-16. 

He has delivered numerous lectures on topics concerning India-Europe and South Asia-Europe at reputed universities and thinks tanks in India and abroad. Author/editor of around 30 books and several articles published in journals including Asia-Pacific Journal of EU Studies, Asia Europe Journal, Baltic Journal of European Studies, and India Quarterly, Dr Jain has had his work translated to French, German, Italian, Polish, and Spanish. 

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Ratan Tata - INDIA

Businessman and philanthropist

Ratan Tata is an Indian business magnate and philanthropist who was the chairman of the Tata group from 1999-2012 and again briefly from 2016-17. He was pivotal in globalising the Tata conglomerate, ensuring that a sizeable portion of its revenue comes from the UK and the USA. Under Tata, the Group's revenues have grown manifold. The group’s significant acquisitions of Tetley (2000), the Anglo-dutch steel company Corus (2007) and the British Jaguar and Land Rover (2008) reflected its global strategy and cemented its hold in Europe. 

The Tata group entered the European market in 1907 owing to the establishment of Tata Limited in London, with operations having expanded and flourished across Europe under Ratan Tata’s leadership.  

He has been awarded the Padma Bhushan (2000) and the Padma Vibhushan (2008) by the Government of India. He was also conferred with Commander of the Legion of Honour by the Government of France in 2016 and Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen in 2014. 

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Ravi Shankar - INDIA

Musician and composer

Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar was an Indian musician and composer who founded the National Orchestra of India. Born in 1920 in Varanasi, he studied the sitar under Ustad Allauddin Khan only at 18 after having toured through India and Europe as part of his brother’s dance troupe. He has since been recognised as one of the leading proponents of Hindustani classical music, especially in the West. He has inspired and collaborated with renowned musicians across the globe, the noteworthy of whom include George Harrison, Yehudi Mehunin, John Coltrane and Satyajit Ray. 

The Government of India awarded him the Padma Bhushan (1967), The Padma Vibhushan (1981) and the Bharat Ratna (1999) for his contributions to music. He has also been conferred with Commander of the Legion of Honour of France (2000) and Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (2001). 

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Richard Attenborough - UNITED KINGDOM

Actor and director

Born in Cambridge in 1923, Richard Attenborough was an English actor and director acclaimed for his portrayal of Pinkie Brown in Boulting’s Brighton Rock (1947) and Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett's Big X in The Great Escape (1963). His most successful venture, however, is arguably the 1982 biographical film Gandhi which earned him 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. This film brought India its first-ever Academy Award. The project was a mammoth collaboration between Indian and British experts involving stakeholders such as  International Film Investors, National Film Development Corporation of India, Goldcrest Films International, and Indo-British Films. 

He was knighted in 1976 and was made a life peer as Baron Attenborough in 1993. In 1993, the Government of India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award. As patron and Founder-President, he was affiliated with the Gandhi Foundation, an organisation promoting Mahatma Gandhi’s life and ideals. 

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Rutger Kortenhorst - IRELAND

Teacher and scholar

Rutger Kortenhorst is an Irish Sanskrit teacher at the John Scottus Senior School in Dublin, Ireland. His tryst with the language began when he picked up ‘An Introduction to Vedic mathematics’ written by Tirtha Shankaracharya, which was available in Sanskrit. 

He spent many summers at the Veda Vijnana Gurukulam in Bangalore, where he taught English in exchange for learning Sanskrit. Here, he worked towards devising novel methods of Sanskrit pedagogy, an improved system he could use to teach children back at John Scottus. With Dr Narendra from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, he has worked on designing the school’s Sanskrit curriculum and developing a series of Sanskrit workbooks for children and adults alike. 

Since 2016, he has been conducting a Junior Certificate Course on Wellbeing based on the principles of Ayurveda and yoga for 12-15-year-olds. 

In 2020, he was awarded the World Sanskrit Prize by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. The Government of India conferred upon him the Padma Bhushan in 2022 for his contributions to Sanskrit pedagogy and the promotion of Yoga and Ayurveda. He has also been lauded by Prime Minister Modi in an episode of his monthly radio programme, Mann ki Baat.

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Sayed Haider Raza - INDIA

Artist

Born in the Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh in 1922, S H Raza formally studied art at the Nagpur School of Art and the Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai, India. He co-founded the Bombay Progressive Artists’ group in 1947 to challenge and transform the landscape of modern art in the Indian context. Raza left for Paris in 1950 on a scholarship to study at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Having made Paris his second home, he weaved elements of its landscape into many of his works. Over the years, his art expanded from expressionist landscapes to more expressive, abstract depictions that often incorporated elements from Indian concepts of space, time and energy. The Bindu (dot) was a central motif in his creations. 

Raza has been awarded the Padma Shri (1981), Padma Bhushan (2007) and Padma Vibhushan (2013) and the Lalit Kala Akademi’s Ratna Puraskar, amongst others. He was presented the Prix de la critique in Paris in 1956, becoming the first foreign artist to receive the honour. In 2015, the French government conferred him with the prestigious Commandeur de la Légion d’ Honneur, the highest French civilian award for his contributions and achievements and furthering Indo-French ties, particularly concerning the arts.
He passed away in 2016. 

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Selvaggia Velo - ITALY

Community Builder

Born in Florence, Italy, Selvaggia Velo studied at the University of Bologna and achieved her Master’s Degree in Humanities, Department of Art, Cinema, Music and Theatre. Since 1998 she has worked with Indian cinema and on other cultural events in cinema, contemporary arts and music.

In 2001 she founded and directed the first film festival in the world - out of India - totally devoted to films from and about India, the River to River Florence Indian Film Festival (www. river to river. it). Over the years, River to River has hosted Amitabh Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, Irrfan Khan, Deepa Mehta, Kabir Bedi, Aparna Sen, Anurag Kashyap and many others among its guests.

Selvaggia Velo has also been a member of International Juries and has curated film programmes and moderated panels in Europe and India. The Festival team is currently working on the 22nd edition that will take place from 6 to 11 December 2022.

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Sonia Gandhi - INDIA

Politician

Sonia Gandhi is an Indian politician who serves as the incumbent President of the Indian National Congress and the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance. Of Italian origin, she moved to India upon marrying Rajiv Gandhi, who became the Prime Minister of India. She took to politics in 1998 as the president of the Congress party, a few years after the death of her husband and has since led her party to win several elections in the Lok Sabha. 

She was bestowed with the Order of Leopold in 2006, Belgium’s second-highest civilian award, for her efforts to nurture a multicultural India. In 2009, she was named the world’s ninth-most powerful woman by Forbes magazine, and in 2010, the British magazine New Statesman ranked her amongst the top fifty most influential people in the world. She also is the chairperson of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and has studied English, French and Russian as foreign languages. 

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Tiziano Terzani - ITALY

Journalist and writer

Tiziano Terzani was an Italian journalist and writer with an expansive knowledge of 20th century Asia, witness to historical events such as the fall of Saigon, the fall of Phnom Penh, and the fall of the Soviet Union. 

From 1972-97, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Asia for Der Spiegel, a German weekly, setting up bureaus or writing from Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, Bangkok and Delhi. The journalist dedicated his life to travelling extensively through Asia - Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. 

With his cancer in remission after receiving treatment in New York, he left to explore India, where he claims he encountered the seeker’s India with its Ayurveda, yoga and the Vedas. This sojourn turned permanent, for he returned to India when his cancer resurfaced, where he spent some of his last days in a retreat in the Himalayas. He is the author of bestsellers, including A Fortune-Teller, Told Me (1995), One More Ride On The Merry Go Round (2004) and The End Is My Beginning (published posthumously in 2006). 

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Tony Blair - UNITED KINGDOM

Politician 

Born in 1953 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Tony Blair was the longest-serving Labour Prime Minister. He was elected the leader of the British Labour Party in 1994 and served as Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1997 to 2007. He also served as the President-in-office of the European council in 2005.

During his tenure, he visited India in 2002 and again in 2005 both as Prime Minister of the UK and President of the European Council. Both Blair and Manmohan Singh addressed the plenary session of the sixth India-EU Business Summit held in New Delhi on 7th September 2005. He led the EU to endorse a Joint EU-India Action Plan, the first of its kind at the time. It provided a structure for intensified political and economic dialogue, interactions and cooperation. 

He founded the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change to encourage inclusivity and openness in leaders and governments worldwide. 

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Virendra Sharma - UNITED KINGDOM

Politician

Born in Mandalhi in Punjab, India, Virendra Sharma moved to Hanwell in the UK in 1968. He initially worked as a bus conductor but received a Trade Union Scholarship to study at the London School of Economics. He subsequently worked as a day services manager for people with learning disabilities in Hillingdon. Besides English, he is fluent in Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu.


He was first elected as a Member of Parliament in Ealing Southall, UK, in 2007 and is the longest-serving MP of Indian Origin in the current UK parliament.  He has served as a councillor in Ealing for 25 years, including a term as Mayor. 

He is also the Chair of the Indo-British All-Party Parliamentary Group, Co-chair of the APPG on Nepal, the Tuberculosis Group, the Hepatitis Group, Vice-Chair of the APPG for British Hindus and the APPG for Tamils and also leads APPG for Gurkha Welfare. 

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Walter Hallstein - GERMANY

Diplomat

Walter Hallstein was the first President of the European Economic Committee from 1958 to 1967. Under his enthusiastic and dynamic leadership, the European integration process advanced significantly. He has published several articles and books on Europe, its institutions, and the challenges of an integrated Europe. 

India was the first Asian country to establish official diplomatic ties with the European Economic Community or the current European Union when Indian ambassador K.B. Lall presented his credentials to Mr Hallstein in 1962.  Mr Hallstein visited India at the invitation of the Indian Minister of scientific research and cultural affairs in April 1963. During his visit, he interacted with many senior leaders in the Indian Government such as Home Minister Shri Gulzarilal Nanda and Finance Minister Shri Moraji Desai. He also delivered two lectures (Azad Memorial lectures) for the Indian Council of Cultural Relations on the place of Europe in the global context. 

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William Dalrymple - UNITED KINGDOM

Travel writer and historian

William Dalrymple is a British travel writer and historian born and raised in Scotland. He first visited India in 1984 with a friend and fell prey to its charms. He returned to Delhi in 1989 to research his award-winning book City of Djinns: a year in Delhi (1993). Another of his works, The Age of Kali (1998), a collection of essays based on his exploration of India, was awarded the French Prix D’Astrolabe in 2005. Other works include prize-winning  White Mughals, The Last Mughal, and Return of King, which are more historical than travelogues. 

Dalrymple has written and presented several television series, travel shows and documentaries on India. His series Stones of the Raj and Indian Journeys won him the BAFTA award for Best Documentary Series.

 

He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He is also the co-founder and co-director of the annual Jaipur Literature Festival. Dalrymple spends most of his time with his family in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Delhi.