Chancellor of Nalanda University, Prof Amartya Sen, has withdrawn his candidature for a second term as head of the transnational Nalanda University in Bihar citing political interference. Here he speaks to ARUN KUMAR in an exclusive interview about the need to restrain political interference and greater academic autonomy. He has also cleared the mist over university spendings
How tough is it for you not to be be at the head of Nalanda’s revival?
The important thing is that the right things be done, and it does not really matter who spearheads these constructive moves. If political interference is restrained, and the academic leadership of the university is ensured of voice and decisional power (including in the governing board, with its academic composition and pan-Asian outlook), without administrative hindrances, this can certainly be done. I hope this will happen. I very much hope so.
Would you like to associate with the project in some other way?
Not officially, but personally, surely, if the new chancellor wants my help.
There is a lot of talk about the huge expenses incurred so far, with numbers like Rs. 2700 crores being thrown around. Is that what you have been spending?
Absolutely not. From the establishment of the University to the end of the last financial year, we have spent a little under Rs. 25 crores. Numbers like Rs. 2700 crores reflect the provision made by the government for a decade of possible expenditure, from 2010 to 2021, if needed (they include the cost of building a new campus to last for many centuries). To throw these numbers around, rather than the actual expenses incurred of Rs. 25 crore over four years, reflects either an attempt to mislead the public, or a failure to understand the rules of accounting. I hope it is the latter – and not a deliberate desire to mislead.
The Union government has refuted that it was trying to ease you out. Is there the possibility of a rethink?
This is not a question I can answer. The right way to think of this issue is not my personal continuance as chancellor (that is not very important), but the government’s guarantee of academic autonomy of Nalanda University. Academic decisions must not be converted into political matters.
Could your criticism of Narendra Modi be a reason for what you think is Centre’s indifference?
I have no idea.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar was ‘disturbed’ by your news. Has he spoken to you?
I have not spoken to Nitish Kumar since he took over as the chief minister again. Nitish has been very committed to the Nalanda project right from the beginning. The revival of this old university – the oldest in the world – was partly his idea, in collaboration with other like-minded people, such as Pranab Mukherjee, then the minister of external affairs (now the President of India and Visitor of Nalanda University). I do not doubt that he will do everything he can to help Nalanda University live up to its heritage – including its academic excellence, its pan-Asian character, and its commitment to secular education, combined with Buddhist studies.
How do you see Nalanda without you? The teachers and employees are disheartened by your exit?
They will not be disheartened if (1) the new chancellor has impeccable intellectual credentials, and (2) the government guarantees NU’s academic autonomy, with an academically high quality governing board. The academic plans for the future, which are being pursued in depth and detail, need not be disrupted in the best interest of Nalanda University and this will help prevent students and teachers from being disheartened.