Nalanda University was an ancient centre of learning in India, and among the first great universities in recorded history, predating such institutions of higher learning like Al-Azhar in Egypt (10th century AD), the University of Bologna in Italy (11th century AD), and Oxford University in England (12th century AD). It was also the first ever residential university in the world, holding capacity for thousands of students to stay on campus in dorms.
One of the interesting aspects of Nalanda University was its intake of ‘international students’ from as far away as Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, as well as Southeast, Central, and Western Asian regions. Nalanda University’s appeal to scholars from these regions was due to the fact that it was one of the most important seats of learning in the Buddhist world. But despite its focus on the study of Buddhism, students at Nalanda University were allowed to pursue other areas of knowledge, such as the fine arts, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, politics, and even the art of war. As a result, numerous illustrious thinkers were associated with the university.
The real blow to Nalanda came with the arrival ov Muslim invaders in 1197 led by Mohammad Bakhtiyar Khilji, a general of Qutubuddin Aibak, who were intolerant of the other religions and cultures. Much of the university was demolished, its priceless library was burnt down and many of its scholars, including Buddhist monks, were mercilessly slaughtered, in what was one of the greatest acts of cultural vandalism in India.
The remains of the dormitories in the ancient university. Credit: Naveen Choudhary
The Scam: Private Estate with Public Money
Kalam felt frustrated with the people at the helm of affairs. His resignation is evidently a rebuff to Prof. Amartya Sen and his protégé Dr. Gopa Sabharwal, smuggled in as the Vice Chancellor-Designate without his knowledge. Being chairman, Governing Board, Prof. Sen’s position is equivalent to Chancellor (the University officially has none as yet). Neither Prof. Sen nor Dr. Sabharwal could inspire the confidence of Dr. Kalam.
With a mind besotted with Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard he viewed Nalanda University through that prism. The glory of ancient Nalanda University was not really that students from all over East Asia came to study there. Its glory was that committed Pandits like Arya Dev, Silabhadra, Dharmapala, Santarakshita and Chandragomin spent their lives for the sake of that institution. But to Prof. Sen ‘Nalanda University’ is pure exotica. Had Amartya declared, having achieved and obtained everything an academician can dream of, building Nalanda University was his life’s mission and he would settle down in Bihar for that, one could have appreciated it. But Amartya views ‘Nalanda University’ as an opportunity for flying trips (at the cost of Indian taxpayers) and flowery speeches. The fault lies actually with Indian establishment. Entrusting the task reviving Nalanda University to Amartya Sen & Co is a testimony of India’s obsequiousness. This obsequiousness is what Dr. Kalam has repeatedly warned Indians against.
The controversy, however, erupted with the appointment of a ‘Vice Chancellor, designate’. In reply to a question on August 25, MEA said no vice-chancellor has been appointed in Nalanda University. However, according to an RTI reply, vice-chancellor Gopa Sabharwal and seven of her associates are drawing salaries since October 2010.
Among the recruits were:
- Upinder Singh
- Daman Singh
- Amrit Singh – All the 3 – daughters of Dr. Manmohan Singh and 2 of them continued their stay in the U.S.A. while drawing the salary from Nalanda University.
- Dr. Anjana Sharma & 5. Nayanjot Lahiri – both friends of Gopa Sabharwal and Upinder Singh
Vice-chancellor draws a salary of Rs 5,06,513 per month. As per the Act, the headquarters should be at Nalanda, Bihar, but within two months of Gazette notification on September 22 last year, were shifted to RK Puram in New Delhi.
Under the Government of India Allocation of Business Rules, 1961, MEA is not authorized to manage or own a university unless part of an inter-governmental agreement. No inter-governmental agreement exists for Nalanda University, unlike the South Asian University. The incumbent Gopa Sabharwal, appointed through an order issued by a secretary in MEA on the recommendation of the mentor group, is just a reader in the department of sociology in the Lady Sri Ram College and has nothing to do with the Buddhist studies for which the university is to be set up. She did not meet the mandatory qualification set by the University Grants Commission (UGC) for the vice-chancellors of the central and state universities to be distinguished academicians with a minimum ten years of experience as a professor in a university system.
Ignoring the government’s recruitment rules that require public notice, Dr Sabharwal picked up her friend Dr Anjana Sharma, an associate professor in Delhi University, as the Officer-on-Special Duty (OSD) on deputation, with gross monthly salary of Rs 3.30 lakhs, which is more than the salary of a Vice-Chancellor in the rest of the country.
The Standing Committee of the ministry says in its report just tabled in Parliament that the Nalanda project was estimated in 2007 to cost Rs 1,005 crore but this may have to be revised, and that the same mentor group has now become the interim governing board of the university. In its very first meeting in February, this board nominated adviser committee to help out and two persons representing India in it are Ms. Upinder Singh, daughter of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and her colleague Ms. Nayanjot Lahiri, who are not experts on any aspect of the Nalanda tradition or history.
But as Amartya Sen’s letter to Pranab Mukherjee, i.e., February 2009 reveals, he recommended three names for the post of Rector. They were in the order of preference a) Dr. Gopa Sabharwal b) Dr. Ramchandra Guha and c) Dr. Pratap Bahanu Mehta.
How the names of the three candidates were shortlisted; how was the selection process conducted; and who were there in the search committee is a closely guarded secret. As far as one understands (a) the plump post was never advertised/publicized (b) no search committee was constituted c) there was no interview or selection process and d) Ramachandra Guha and Pratap Bhanu Mehta were never contacted for this top job. Amartya Sen never submitted any supporting papers related to the selection.
Amartya Sen’s criticism of Narendra Modi is also a product of political sponsorship. It has to be understood in the perspective of the ‘politics of obligation’ practiced within the Amartya Sen-JD(U)-UPA triangle. The cornerstone of this relationship is vested in the Nalanda University project. It is this fraudulent project that binds Amartya Sen, UPA and Nitish Kumar. It extends to supporting the policies of Manmohan Singh’s Government in New Delhi and Nitish Kumar’s Government in Bihar. In fact, Manmohan Singh and Nitish Kumar are both using Amartya Sen to validate their policies (including follies).
Many primary school buildings are better than this building worth several hundred crores.
Amartya Sen is threatening to resign after the finance ministry raised pointed queries on the financial management of the varsity, said an Indian Express report. The varsity has been granted a massive Rs 2,727 crore financial support package over a period of 12 years. The finance ministry’s Department of Expenditure has asked the Ministry of External Affairs, the nodal ministry for the project, the reasons why government rules should not apply to the project, said the Indian Express report.
Nalanda University has become a private estate with public money in the name of autonomy. Amartya has no fig leaves to hide. Only the media is not asking him the right questions.
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