Every Indian proudly recalls Nalanda, Taxila and Vikramshila as part of the glorious Indian heritage. The idea to recreate the glory that was Nalanda was presented as a dream initiative in knowledge creation, generation and utilisation. At least this is what people understood of it. In the times of transition from an information society towards a knowledge society, it was hailed as a step in ‘linking Indians to India’; a link that was obliterated in a planned manner by the British as the most potent strategy ‘to subjugate Indians’. Scholars and academics in institutions of higher education expected a versatile centre of excellence that would motivate and inspire over 600 universities and over 37,000 colleges and other institutions of higher learning.
The hype created was deafening; Bihar was in a celebratory mood and the Government of India was too eager to open its purse strings for the new venture. Land, too, was swiftly made available. Appointments were to be made. The top echelons of the government religiously seek inspiration from the West. Maybe they had some western universities in mind which find high places in international rankings and attract the resourceful young from India. They picked up Nobel Laureate and government’s favourite Amartya Sen to head the mentors group. They wanted to ‘resurrect’ the Nalanda University without understanding what made it so great. What better choice than an internationally reputed person who was also, once upon a time, an Indian citizen. He was given the responsibility to steer the project and create a centre of learning, history and heritage that would make Indians proud. Also associated in a ceremonial capacity was APJ Abdul Kalam, the beloved of the people and particularly the youth of India.
The project is now in a mess. Professor Sen has threatened to quit if his decisions are interfered by any agency. Dr Kalam had earlier expressed inability to continue his association. Sen would tolerate no incursion on his autonomy which, in academic institutions, could have multifarious interpretations. The ‘progressive’ elements in academia would not accept even an iota of accountability even if they are splurging public funds. Sen created huge ripples in the academic circle when he appointed the Vice-Chancellor and her deputy on salaries that, he thought, were “internationally appropriate”. The salaries are tax-free and range between $50,000-55,000 per year for some of the functionaries. For those at the top, it is around $80,000 a year. No one cared to find the extent of adverse and demoralising impact it would have on the incumbent VCs and academics of other Indian universities. It is such thoughtless acts that create conditions which impact quality of education and research.
Only an Amartya Sen, as head of mentors group, could appoint a young person as VC who was not even a full professor. It was sufficient enough to make people sit up. The Nalanda University began to ‘function’ from New Delhi as suitable infrastructure facilities were not available in Nalanda for the VC to function properly. When for every initiative, the guiding light comes from the West, why should Nalanda University follow the Indian rules and regulations? In India, those in power believe in privileges and more privileges. How could anyone question someone of the stature of Sen? Sadly enough for some, the manner of expenditure has been questioned by the babus of the government. Further, the office of the President has ordered that a CEO be appointed to take the university out of the snail’s pace at which things are moving at present. Obviously, it is an expression of anguish at the highest level.
People expect new Nalanda as a centre of learning that focuses on Indian languages and traditions of knowledge creation. Is copying the West the only way out?