There is something about gaining recognition and admiration in India which makes it necessary to have foreign associations if not antecedents. Folklore has it that on the eve of Indian independence, the issue of who would lead as Prime Minister of divided India came up. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was clearly a key player in this. It was generally recognized that his choice would be an important determinant of the person who would actually get there. The story rolls on that by popular acclaim, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had the larger base. Gandhi took it upon himself to talk to Vallabhbhai and the conversation reportedly went something like this. "I know you are older, you are senior, and you have an enormous mass following. Jawaharlal is also liked by many but above all, he is better known abroad. India will a new entrant in the comity of nations and will need a lot of goodwill. Jawaharlal can marshal it, more easily. Let him become the Prime Minister. You become the Deputy Prime Minister and he will heed you, anyhow." The rest as they say is history.
Jawaharlal was indeed a person well known in the political class of Britain and known to be in familiar circles of some of the elite groups there. Mountbattens were only one of them.
The foreign connect has obviously paid rich dividends in making careers in India. This was true of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi himself, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Bhimrao Ambedkar. The grass root leadership of the Naickers, the Namboodiripads, the Rajendra Prasads, Shiekh Abdullas were important but they were at the best at the beck and call of the first level of leaders. That became the model not only in politics but in administration, academia and at times even the services.
Training in Sandhrust was idolized. The Gorkhas may have excelled at combat but the leadership was elsewhere. In administration, ICS continued to call the shots and even VP Menon got his entry into the elite circles because of his ICS background.
In academia, the early 50s saw a huge parade of Indian aspiring scholars making a beeline to Universities of London, Cambridge, Oxford and the list could be added on to. Manmohan Singh, decades later, as Prime Minister, went back to Cambridge University to, reportedly, confess and pay homage by saying, "I am, where I am, because of this University". Perhaps if he had a doctorate from Punjab University he would have been nowhere close to where he actually got. It is obvious that working on a thesis on Indian exports, in early 50s in Cambridge University is an unusual event. The writer knew of a '42 batch Xaverian who went to Chicago to get his doctorate on Rabindranath Tagore and graduated to a celebrity status. However, he always kept wondering whether he couldn't have worked on it better in an Indian University, say in Bengal, on the same topic.
That was the time when Universities such as Delhi, Bombay, Anna, Patna, Allahabad should have really been built up as international centers of excellence. The Presidency College of Calcutta, Syndham of Bombay, Stephens of Delhi, Patna College of Patna were full of enormously talented teachers (and students) but they withered. There was, among other things, confusion of cadres of state educational service and autonomous educational institutions. The ruling national leadership, be it of Jawaharlal or Maulana Azad or whoever else, had little conception of educational planning, barring stray thoughts on 'basic education', self-reliance and more.
It was not till the 60s that IITs were conceived. IIMs were more a result of private initiative by people such as Vikram Sarabhai, Ravi Mathai, than of any sustained state planning. The result was obvious.
Outstanding engineering institutions like Guindy or Roorkee were so neglected that they took years to get back into prominence. IITs like the contemporary steel mills came up in their first five incarnations through foreign collaboration. There was nothing in common in the conception of an IIT say in Delhi (which came up with British collaboration) with IIT Kharagpur (which came up with German collaboration). New engineering institutions were created at the cost of existing ones. Later on, IITs acquired some of their fame by their alumni earning the low end jobs in US and elsewhere, rather than much original research which could be globally quoted.
Even today, in many Indian institutions, and for prime jobs with the government, foreign associations are widely sought and celebrated. The number of researchers beaming talent and resources on Indian themes of development are not in large numbers and they certainly do not earn foreign recognition or trips. This is not the best way of seeking or strengthening national identity.
Even today, promotion and recognition in very many so called leading educational institutions comes to those who have foreign exposure, foreign publication, and foreign recognition. If nothing more, at least, foreign connects, are examined before promoting. The number of committees which have gone into such issues are far too large to enumerate here.
The broader point is that, just as in the political arena international profiles of domestic leadership is a great asset, in the academia, too, the foreign factor has a dominance which is brazen.
It is therefore not surprising that Indian industry and business focusses on foreign collaboration to get enthused. This cannot be the enduring way forward. Like in many other things, the political structure and decision making process needs to recognize more clearly the worth of richness of Indian intellectual tradition and developing models and practices rooted in Indian conditions. Till that happens careers in India will continue to be made, riding on the wheels of foreign connects.