BARELY a few hours after Pune-based computer scientist Vijay Bhatkar was appointed as the Chancellor of Nalanda University, he has drawn flak due to his association as president of Vigyan Bharati — an arm of the RSS which promotes “swadeshi” science. While much is being spoken on the social media and academic circles about the saffronisation of one of India’s most promising universities, Bhatkar claims that he is unfazed by the criticism and agrees that he is facing a perception battle. “There can be all kinds of criticism, some may call it leftist or rightist. I am not denying my link with Vigyan Bharati and I know people call it is an RSS body. But to me, it is a body of scientists. Big names like APJ Abdul Kalam, Dr Anil Kakodkar, Dr Raghunath Mashelkar have been associated with the movement and I don’t see this as growth of ideology, but science,” he said.
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“At Nalanda, there will be no left or right. All views are welcome. I am aiming at developing a liberal world-class university, which lays emphasis on students being allowed to study across disciplines and emerge with world-class research,” he added.
Admitting that the movement is based on the idea of a strong swadeshi spirit, Bhatkar said he finds nothing wrong with it. “There is nothing wrong in linking spiritualism with modern medicine and science. In fact, the West has realised the importance of it and I believe that this is where we could score over, as we have strong background of spiritualism and science,” he said.
The scientist, who led the development of India’s first supercomputer — Param — after the US refused to sell supercomputers to India, says he will take over responsibilities of NU after a meeting in New Delhi next week.
Asked to spell out his priority areas, he said he would like to focus on areas where India has historically had a stronghold. “Areas such as philosophy and understanding the nature of the mind, Mathematics, linguistics and the science of yoga are some of the areas, which will be important at Nalanda University. We have done some fundamental breakthroughs in these areas and, traditionally, we have been at the frontier in these disciplines. We would like to bring outstanding scholars from these fields and promote a culture of learning and sharing,” he said.
Bhatkar, who has served as a member of the scientific advisory committee to the PM and the governing council of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, was appointed by President Pranab Mukherjee in his capacity as the NU visitor.
Bhatkar has also been a member of the IT Task Force, constituted by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998. Bhatkar was awarded the Padmashri in 2000. He also received Maharashtra Bhushan Award, the highest recognition of the Government of Maharashtra, in 2000.
Nalanda University has been in the eye of the storm for quite sometime now. Two months ago, George Yeo, former Singapore Foreign Minister, resigned from the post of Chancellor, protesting government interference. Yeo had succeeded Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who had accused the government of intervening in the university’s affairs.
Asked about this, Bhatkar said he was aware of the “problems”, which the NU had faced in the past. “I am aware of the allegations in the past. However, I can’t comment on it. One advantage that Nalanda University has is that it comes under the Ministry of External Affairs and rigid conditions of the University Grants Commission (UGC) do not apply to it. Hence, there is more autonomy in a way. Also, it has more international co-operation. For me, the biggest challenge lies in turning around NU to its former glory,” he said.
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