Arun Maira is a member of India’s Planning Commission, a senior government body with enormous influence on broad areas of policy within the Indian government. He comes to the position from long experience in the world of business consultancy, including a longtime stint in the Boston area at Arthur D. Little.
We meet with him in his office, and the conversation begins slowly. A lot of universities, says Mr. Maira, have been traipsing their way into India, trying to expand activities, recruit students, but without necessarily a clear idea about where they are going. Jehuda emphasizes that India is not new for Brandeis, that have had had strong since students from India since the early 1960s, and that we’re looking to build on strength, not to create artificial structures from scratch.
But the conversation takes a productive turn in a surprising way: when we start to talk about the Middle East. Maira starts by warning us that the Brandeis association with the Jewish community and by extension with Israel will not necessarily play well in all quarters in India. But his tone changes considerably as we outline the deliberate and strategic way that Brandeis has developed a diversity of activities throughout the Middle East as a whole, in the context of working towards peace in that troubled region. We mention the range of scholars associated with the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, including experts on Palestine, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and other parts of North Africa. We describe the longstanding partnership with Al-Quds University, a Palestinian university in the West Bank. And we highlight our Slifka Program in Intercommunal Coexistence, with its flagship master’s program in the area of coexistence and conflict.
Seeing Brandeis in this light, Maira suggests that we think seriously about building on these strengths in India, where political and economic contacts in the Middle East are on the rise, and where issues of conflict and coexistence are an internal issue as well.