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How to become an Indian Rhodes Scholar: from the horse's mouth

One of the most (in)famous Rhodes Scholars is no doubt William Jefferson Clinton (pictured), who of course neither inhaled nor graduated in his time at Oxford.

The names of the latest batch of five Indian Rhodes Scholars were finalised on the eve of 12 October 2009 in Mumbai. As usual, students from the law dominated the list, with Aditya Swarup of NALSAR Hyderabad and V Niranjan of NLSIU Bangalore sweeping the field.

In India, out of hundreds of applicants only a few are selected and invited for a final round of interview. The number of finalists for this year was 18.

The scholarship programme requires the applicants to meet strict eligibility criteria laid down by the Rhodes Trust, which looks for qualities of moral and intellectual strength in a candidate. Cigar, Mr President, sir?

A preliminary round of interviews is then held for successful candidates in the regional centers of Mumbai (Pune), Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore. This is then followed by a final interview.

NLSIU's Niranjan says the grant of a Rhodes scholarship had been the fulfillment of a long-standing dream of his to study at Oxford.

"I hope to pursue a career in litigation in India, and an education at Oxford is quite inspiring from that perspective, given Oxford's history. The Rhodes Scholarship is something everyone dreams of and my application process was a combination of excitement and apprehension," Niranjan told Legally India by email.

He writes: "I am given to understand that there are about 600 applicants for the Rhodes from India, and about 120 from law. India has five Rhodes scholarships. I applied in July, and was informed that I'd been shortlisted for the preliminary interview to be held in Mumbai on September 5, 2009.

"That interview panel was chaired by Professor V.S. Chauhan, Secretary, Rhodes Trust India, and also had eminent Rhodes scholars like Mr Nandan Kamath and Ms Menaka Guruswamy. The days following that interview were quite trying, as I was nervously awaiting the results. I was told two weeks later that I'd made it to the final interview, which was hosted yesterday at Mumbai.

"The final interview is quite an experience. The eminence of the interview panel makes it a wonderful process to go through, and yesterday's panel was chaired by Mr. Ratan Tata, the Chairman of the Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee. Other panelists included Mr. Rahul Gandhi, Mr. Nandan Kamath, Mr. Sanjeev Sanyal, Ms. Rakhi Mehra and others. A Rhodes tradition is that a dinner is hosted by the selection committee the day before the interview, and this is a great chance to meet and interact with persons as eminent and accomplished as these.

"The interview itself lasted about 20 minutes, and was a very engaging process - I was questioned on the personal statement I had written, articles I have published, my career goals, accomplishments thus far, etc. Once again, waiting for results was a nerve-wracking experience, but this time the results were declared on the same day, which made it mercifully shorter!

"I couldn't quite believe it when my name was announced, and in truth, I still can't - I think it will take time for this to sink in but I'm more delighted than I've ever been. The Rhodes Scholarship is more than just a scholarship - it is an institution that is filled with world leaders spanning generations, and to be awarded the scholarship is both humbling and a reminder that there is so much to accomplish in one's field, which in my case is law.

"I can't find words to express my gratitude to the people who made this possible for me - first and foremost, my parents, my Professors at the National Law School, some of whom were my referees, law school alumni who wrote references for me, Mr. Arvind Datar, Senior Advocate, who gave me a chance to intern under him and wrote a reference for me, one of my schoolteachers, a couple of inspirational and wonderful seniors who have been guiding me right from when I entered law school, a few very good friends in law school and many other people.”

Have a look on the ever-helpful Wikipedia for some more background on the Rhodes scholarship.

Details of procedures in India are given on the web site of Rhodes Scholarships India.

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