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Honoris Causa: honour without cause

Next time Jackie Chan returns from Chennai, he could well be Dr Jackie Chan. Such is the penchant for distributing honoris causa...

Written by Gopumohan | Chennai |
May 28, 2008 11:31:27 pm

Next time Jackie Chan returns from Chennai, he could well be Dr Jackie Chan. Such is the penchant for distributing honoris causa or honorary doctorates that every university in Tamil Nadu ensures that at least one prominent personality in the state gets the degree during its annual convocation.

The latest in the list are Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, who will be awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Madras during its convocation to be held in July, according to a recent announcement by its vice chancellor. The university, one of the oldest in the country, awarded 10 honorary degrees—including D.Litt, D.Sc and LLD—to a film director, an entrepreneur, a media mogul and to its own vice chancellor, among others, during last year’s convocation ceremony to coincide with its 150-year anniversary.

Considering the special regard that Tamil Nadu has for movies, most of the awardees are from the tinselworld and the rest are politicians. Actors such as the late Sivaji Ganesan, Kamal Haasan, Satyaraj, Manorama and Vijay, directors K. Balachander and Bharathiraja, producer AVM Saravanan, composers Ilayaraja and Deva, singer Yesudas, lyricist Vairamuthu…the list is long.

An actor who received the award in 2005 once said that the vice-chancellor of a private university presented him a framed picture of him receiving the award much before the doctorate was actually conferred. This ‘founder-chancellor’, who has given the award to more film personalities than anyone else, has, in fact, declared that his aim is to award 100 honorary doctorates.

Politicians are another favourite for these doctorates. Incidentally, all those who received them are connected to Kollywood, one way or other. Chief Minister ‘Dr’ M. Karunanidhi was among the first chief ministers in the country to have received an honorary doctorate when the Annamalai University awarded it to him in 1971. M.G. Ramachandran, who succeeded him, received one each from Madras University and The World University, Arizona, USA.

In 1990, during the first convocation of the Tamil Nadu Dr MGR Medical University, the guest of honour was M. Karunanidhi, who was awarded a D.Sc. During the next convocation in 1992, the guest of honour was J. Jayalalithaa, who was also generously bestowed with the title, adding to the D.Lit awarded by the University of Madras a year earlier in 1991. She also received a Doctor of Letters from Madurai Kamaraj University in 1993, D.Sc from the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University and another Doctor of Letters from Bharatidasan University.

On his return to power in 2006, Karunanidhi was presented with a D.Sc by the Madurai Kamaraj University during its 40th annual convocation and will receive one again this July from the University of Madras.

“The honorary doctorates are being distributed only to please those in power; it’s another form of sycophancy practised for decades in Tamil Nadu,” said social commentator and satirist Cho Ramaswamy.

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