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Government doesn’t want me to lead Nalanda University, so I am not staying on, says Amartya Sen

‘I am sad that academic governance in India remains so deeply vulnerable to the opinions of the ruling government,

Written by Ruhi Tewari | New Delhi | Updated: February 20, 2015 7:20:41 pm
amartya sen, nalanda, amartya sen resignation, amartya sen news, nalanda vice chancellor I am sad that academic governance in India remains so deeply vulnerable to the opinions of the ruling government, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen said. (Source: PTI photo)

Drawing attention to the delay in clearing his name for Chancellorship of Nalanda University for a second term — although the Governing Board unanimously recommended it — economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen on Thursday “excluded” himself from continuing in the position after his term ends in July.

For The Record: ‘I am sad that academic governance in India remains so deeply vulnerable to the opinions of the ruling government’

In a letter to the board written with a “heavy heart,” Sen said that it was “hard for him not to conclude that the government” wanted him to “cease” being Chancellor. In the letter, Sen says that academics in the country remains “deeply vulnerable to the opinions of the ruling Government.”

He added that it’s because of the absence of Government’s approval that the Visitor, President Pranab Mukherjee, has not been able to give his nod to the board’s decision of granting Sen a second term.

“It is hard for me not to conclude that the Government wants me to cease being the Chancellor of Nalanda University after this July, and technically it has the power to do so. This delay as well as the uncertainty involved is leading, in effect, to a decisional gap, which is not helpful to Nalanda University’s governance and its academic progress. I have, therefore, decided that in the best interest of Nalanda University, I should exclude myself from being considered for continuing as Chancellor of Nalanda University beyond this July, despite the unanimous recommendation and urging of the Governing Board for me to continue,” Sen said.

Sen, whose term as Chancellor ends in July this year, was unanimously picked by the Nalanda University Board to serve in the position for a second term during its last meeting on January 13-14 this year.

In his letter, the noted economist has said the board’s unanimous decision that was “firm and enthusiastic” was conveyed to the President, the Visitor of all Central Universities, in mid-January “drawing his attention to the urgency of the matter” but no response has been received yet.

Sen has pointed out that as per the Nalanda University Act of Parliament, the decision of the governing board becomes operational only after the Visitor’s assent.

“More than a month has passed since then, and it now seems clear that the Visitor has been unable to provide his assent to the Governing Board’s unanimous choice, in the absence of the Government’s approval. The Governing Board has not been favoured with a reply to its request, either from the President’s office or from the Ministry of External Affairs. As Board members are aware, our Visitor (President Pranab Mukherjee) has always taken a deep personal interest in the speedy progress of the work of Nalanda University, and given that, we have to assume that something makes it difficult — or impossible — for him to act with speed in this matter,” he says in his letter.

The Nobel Laureate, who in 2013 has come out against then Gujarat Chief Minister and now Prime Minister Narendra Modi stating he did not want him to become PM, had recently remarked, at Express Adda, that although he disagreed with Modi on many issues, the Prime Minister had been able to give “a sense of faith to people that things can happen.”

“I am also sad, at a more general level, that academic governance in India remains so deeply vulnerable to the opinions of the ruling Government, when it chooses to make political use of the special provisions. Even though the Nalanda University Act, passed by the Parliament, did not, I believe, envisage political interference in academic matters, it is formally the case — given the legal provisions (some of them surviving from colonial days) — that the Government can turn an academic issue into a matter of political dispensation, if it feels unrestrained about interfering,” Sen says in the letter.

Adding that “non-action is a time-wasting way of reversing a Board decision”, Sen said this had also happened to the “revised Statutes that the Governing Board passed unanimously last year”, many of which he claims never received “formal acceptance or rejection from the Ministry of External Affairs, which had the role of coordinating with the Visitor’s office.”

“As you would also remember, there was considerable disquiet among Board members about the Government’s evident unwillingness to appreciate the international character of Nalanda University and to pay appropriate attention to the multi-country Governing Board of Nalanda. In particular, the Governing Board was kept completely in the dark about an attempted unilateral move by the Government to rapidly reconstitute the entire Board, and to do this in violation of some of parts of the Nalanda University Act,” the letter added.
Sen had threatened to quit the university last year before the Lok Sabha election after the finance ministry raised queries on the financial management of the university’s revival plan.

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