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Mainstream, VOL L No 27, June 23, 2012

Prof V.P. Dutt — Doyen of Chinese Studies

Wednesday 27 June 2012


Much revered Prof V.P. Dutt, the doyen of Chinese Studies in India, passed away in Delhi last year of April 26. The demise of Meera Sinha Bhattacharjea three years back, and that of Giri Deshingkar earlier, and the passing the passing away of Gargi Dutt, wife of V.P. Dutt and a China scholar in her own right, had already created a void in Chinese studies in India. Prof V.P. Dutt’s demise will be long felt by Chinese scholars and policy-planners in the country, particularly at a time when there is a pressing need to engage China on the part of India thoughtfully and imagina-tively. India needs to engage China without getting prejudiced by Western thinking and ideas. It is in this regard that his absence will be felt strongly. It is not out of the place to mention that when the US started the containment policy with regard to China, Prof Dutt had strongly advocated that China would open up and engage with the USA, a fact which was realised by the USA only in the 1970s.

Prof Dutt was perhaps one of the earliest Indian scholars on China, who after his college education in Lahore in pre-independence India, studied at the Stanford University and Beijing University. He held the position of Professor of Chinese Studies at Delhi University at a fairly young age, and nurtured the Department of Chinese Studies, which became a centre of excellence. He is perhaps one of the few Indian scholars on China, who is highly respected by the fraternity of Chinese scholars abroad. His students at Delhi University would always remember his thesis on the 1911 Republican Revolution in China.

His seminal works include China’s Foreign Policy: 1958-62, China and the World, China’s Cultural Revolution, which he co-authored along with his wife, China after Mao, and India’s Foreign Policy. His book China’s Foreign Policy, published in 1964, covers period 1962-64, and a very chequered and tumultuous phase of the evolution and growth of China’s foreign policy. It continues to be the most authentic and referred book on China’s foreign policy of that period and has relevance even today in understanding the determinants of China’s foreign policy. Besides, the book has references to many important Chinese sources in both English and Chinese. Together with his wife Gargi Dutt, he authored the book on China’s Cultural Revolution. This book, published in the wake of the Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 to 1969, is widely acclaimed. As China was not easily accessible to Westerners during the Cultural Revolution the book is yet another an authentic source on the subject.

DURING his long and eventful career, in teaching and research, he had not only contributed significantly to the Chinese scholarship, but he had also mentored a number of Indian scholars on China. The important positions which he held with distinction included the post of Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University; he was twice nomi-nated Member of the Rajya Sabha, and happened to be a distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, where he continued to work till he breathed his last. Prof Dutt will be remembered for his deep insights and analyses of Chinese foreign policy.

The teaching fraternity in Delhi University will always remember him for his amiable nature, which endeared him to one and all. He was affable and accessible to his students and particularly sensitive about students from the backward regions of the country who didn’t have the privilege of studying in elite schools or abroad; and in spite of these shortcomings he always fought for them and gave them recognition and dignity. If his personality was impeccable, so was his clarity of thought and his lucid and insightful writings. In analysing foreign policy his over-riding concern was the interest of the country. As a symbolic gesture he had dedicated his magnum opus, China’s Foreign Policy, to the people of India. He had advised succeeding Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers of the country on China and on India-China relations. It is unfortunate, however, that in spite of his invaluable scholarly contri-butions, he has not been given the kind of recog-nition which he so eminently deserved. Perhaps a posthumous Padma award would somewhat compensate the benign neglect.

The author is a former student of Prof V.P. Dutt and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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