On November 21, 2016, Noble Laureate Professor Amartya Sen was relieved off his position at the Nalanda University’s governing board. Now, George Yeo – the Chancellor of the university and an erstwhile foreign minister of Singapore – has put down his papers as well in what can be seen as a mark of protest at the decision regarding Professor Sen. He has submitted his resignation to Pranab Mukherjee.
In fact, it was him who gave the go ahead for the cleanup of what he termed as the high-profile management board of the university. He serves as the Visitor of the said institution and his decision was taken in agreement with the Nalanda University Act, 2010. He has also appointed the present Vice Chancellor to the post of Dean of the University. This is however a stop-gap measure.
Arvind Panagariya, Vice Chairman of Niti Ayog, Professor Arvind Sharma, Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University of Canada, and Lokesh Chandra, President of Indian Council for Cultural Relations have been appointed to the new board as famed academicians. Apart from the Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor, the new board of 14 members is also expected to have five members who have been nominated by India, Lao PDR, China, Thailand, and Australia. India is supposed to be represented by NK Singh – an erstwhile revenue secretary and economist.
The board will also be made up of Secretary (East) of Ministry of External Affairs, two members who will represent the Bihar Government, and an Additional Secretary from the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry.
Professor Sen’s History with Nalanda University
Professor Sen has been associated with the university for nine years. It was in February 2015 that he had quit from his post as Chancellor and then proceeded to criticize the national government led by the BJP. Before his resignation from the Chancellor’s post, he had criticized India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well. It had also been reported in certain sections of the media that he would be ousted from the administrative body and it would be reconstituted.
During February 2015, Sen had stated in a letter to the university’s governing board that he would not apply for a second term as he was sure that the ruling party did not want him to carry on.
George Yeo’s Opinion on the Issue
Yeo stated that the board was dissolved without consulting him – he also did not have any role in forming the new board – and according to him, the domestic politics of India had a lot to do with this decision that was taken all of a sudden.
He also said that he is not sure of the exact reasons as to why the decision was taken while acknowledging that the power to take the final call rested with the Indian Government itself.
He has stated clearly that he does not wish to be a part of the situation, adding that since he is not an Indian citizen he would not like to say anything more than what he has said in his statement. He said that he has associated with leaders from political parties such as Congress and BJP in the initial stages of the project.
Yeo was chosen to be the Chancellor during July 2015, and at that time, according to him, he had been told that a new governing board would be formed as per an amended Act. In fact, at that time, the Union Ministry of External Affairs had consulted him on the most important aspects of the Act. The ousted governing board was supposed to be instituted once this new Act was created. However, that agreement was not honoured by the national government.
The Other Major Ousters
It also needs to be mentioned in this regard that some other prominent academicians included in the culling process are Meghnad Desai and Sugata Bose. According to Yeo, this decision came as a bolt out of the blue for most members of the now-disposed governing body as well.
Has Politics got to do Anything with this?
It needs to be noted in this particular context that Meghnad Desai, an academic based in Great Britain, has been an ardent critic of the present regime, much like Professor Sen. Similarly, Sugata Bose is a member of parliament for Trinamool Congress, one of the most vocal critics and opponents of PM Narendra Modi.
In the last few years, plenty of scholars – including the ones mentioned – have put in some herculean efforts to revive the Bihar-based university. So, perhaps, this sudden decision from the government appears to be a surprising one.
How Will Nalanda Survive This?
Yeo feels that the university – as it was imagined and conceptualized upon its revival – is now ready for the next stage and it would develop even without the ousted members of the mentor group. However, he has made it clear that he will always remain committed to the mission behind reviving the university.