Nalanda University; The controversial hub

Parliament passed Nalanda University Act on Aug 2010 to revive the University as center for learning on the lines of ancient University in Rajgir, Bihar, so that could become “an icon of Asian renaissance.”

This ambitious project of Govt of India was first mooted in 1990’s but it was former President APJ Kalam who talked about this vision during the joint session of the Bihar Assembly in 2006 to set up a university on ruins of ancient Nalanda which is a center of excellence, linking past with future knowledge.

After that Government of India set up Mentor Group headed by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen to give shape to this ambitious project., the panel including the member of stakeholder countries like then Singapore‘s Foreign Minister George Yeo , Prof Wang Banwei of Peking University and academicians like lord Meghnand Desai, Prof Sugata Bose , University, Prof Tansen Sen, who work in western universities, and N.K.Singh Member of Parliament, was given the mandate recommend how to shape up Nalanda University as a International body as 16 ASEAN countries are involve in this prestigious project. And MOS External Affairs Preneet Kaur while introducing the bill in Parliament said “Nalanda University would be establish as non-state, non-profit ,secular and self governing international institute with a continental focus.” The group, since its formation, was supposed to submit the recommendations within nine months for revival of University but it failed to do so, that too after holding half a dozen meetings in Singapore, Tokyo, New York, New Delhi, and Gaya during 2007-2009 with the government incurring an expenditure of around Rs 2.11 corer. Alas, the group’s final report is yet to see the light of the day.

Since its inception, this project mired in controversies ranging from irregularities in appointments to favoritism, setting up office around 1,000 km away from actual site in New Delhi, sidelining of Dr. Kalam, the silence of CM Nitish Kumar, who is keen to put Bihar up to world map center of quality Education like ancient times, to his offer to give 500 acres of land. But his silence over Dr. Kalam’s disassociation from the project is quite baffling as in a letter sent to Minister for External Affairs on July 4 , Dr. Kalam clearly mentioned about his non availability for any position. However, he wrote: “Having involved in various academic and administrative proceedings of Nalanda University Since 2007, I believe that the candidates to be selected /appointed to the post of chancellor and Vice-chancellor should be of extraordinary intellect with academic and management expertise .Both the Chancellor and Vice-chancellor have to personally involve themselves full time, in Bihar, so that a robust and strong international institution is built.”

The most controversial decisions were appointments of V-C and her aides which are arbitrary in nature. The NMG group (now governing body) Chairman had sent three names to then MEA Minister namely Dr. Gopa Sabharwal, (reader in Lady Shri Ram College), Dr. Ramchandra Guha, (historian, biographer and writer) and Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta (Political scientist, President, Center for Policy Research). And Before even Nalanda Act Passed in Aug 2010, the selection of Dr Gopa Sabharwal was announced by Dr. Sen, who conveyed the decision to the Minister in a single page without giving any details about selection procedure. Not only that her appointment as Vice-chancellor designate was made before the Act was notified and that it was subsequently denied by the MOS. External Affairs, when this issue was raised in Rajya Sabha, but also Dr. Sabhrwal had already taken two decision as V-C without having been formally appointed as a vice-chancellor.

Her letters to Registrar, Delhi University, confirms this as she had written about appointments of Dr. Anjana Sharma, Professor of English DU as OS (university functional) and the appointment of Dr. Padmakar MIshra, Deputy Registrar, as OSD (finance) as there was nothing concrete on the ground since both appointment were done without notifications which is mandatory in any government job .

The lack of requisite qualification, the highest ever pay packet for any V-C and her aides in the country and her decision to work from Delhi became subject of heated debates putting question mark on University itself where in the ancient times even students got admission after grueling session and public debate. That’s why critics and intellectuals raised concerns about her academic credentials and asking how world Class University will be built because neither she nor her associates are well versed with the Nalanda tradition.

Favoritism is supposed to be flavor of this governing body and its appointed vice-chancellor. The board constituted advisory group comprising Delhi University teachers Ms. Upinder Singh (daughter of Prime Minister) and her friend and colleague Ms Nayanjot Lahiri to represent Nalanda outside India. Incidentally both are not the experts, and sad part in this that they did not even think.forget about considering any other eminent academicians or the Buddhist Scholars who well versed Nalanda Tradition and History. Dr Gopa Sabhrwal appointed her colleague and working associate Anjana Sharma as her OSD on salary of more than 3 lakh per month with clear violations of rules and regulations.

When The DayAfter tried to talk Dr Sabhrwal on phone, she said that she is busy for 20 days, and when I insisted she said that somebody from her office would get back to me which obliviously did not happened. This tells all.

The revival of Nalanda University is laudable effort; this 1,005 crore project needs sincerity flawless infrastructure, ,thinkers ,scholars and administrators, who not only well equipped but also have passion to revive old glory of Nalanda , which was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193 when Oxford University was in infancy. Till then it was most respected and renowned center of learning for world.
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