Despite differences, AN Jha got Tara Chand elected AU V-C
Professor BN Asthana, former Vice-Chancellor of Kanpur University (KU), remains active in academic activities even at 82. One can observe a glow in his eyes when he reminisces his experiences of KU and Allahabad University where he was Professor and Head of the Department of Commerce and Business Administration.
A well-read and widely travelled Prof Asthana feels he was highly influenced by the biographies of great men like former US President John F Kennedy and JRD Tata.
"JRD set an example before Indians and the youngsters must read his biography to draw inspiration for the progress of their own and the country as well," he advocates.
Prof Asthana has several books to his credit and his articles have been published by many reputed national and international journals. He was a brilliant student throughout and because of his bright career he was honoured with Fulbright Maintenance Grant by the US under an exchange programme with India.
His father Late Raj Bahadur Asthana, who retired as District Judge of Ujjain, inspired him to become self-reliant when he was too young. Over a dozen students guided by him have been conferred with the degree of doctorate and many of his disciples are shouldering various significant responsibilities in India and abroad. But, despite all this, he is a modest person and without desiring for any credit keeps nurturing his scholarly passion.
The excerpts of the interview:
It was a club life in Allahabad University when I took admission in M Com in 1945. Almost every department and every hostel used to consist of several clubs for students' personality development.
While membership of departmental clubs was compulsory, that of the hostel clubs was optional. These clubs used to hold regular meetings to discuss problems of students and hostel inmates. Besides, social and political situations were also discussed at these meetings. I was allotted a room in Sir Sunder Lal hostel, which had six-seven clubs. I was a member of the Problems' Club there.
We used to discuss our problems and ways to solve them. Distinguished persons, including the leaders of national level, were invited to address annual functions of the hostels. Soon after doing M Com I was given an opportunity to take classes in 1947. I completed my research and became a full-fledged teacher later.
Late Prof Beni Prasad, who was a well-known scholar of Political Science and was the Head of the Department of Political Science, was an expert of Constitutions of various countries. I remember that he was visited by many dignitaries of the country and abroad for consultation on crucial Constitutional issues. Even the British Parliament and institutions of other countries used to seek his advice. Top bureaucrats were often seen paying him a courtesy call.
Only a few people know that the noted scholar of History, Prof Ishwari Prasad, was Professor and Head of the Political Science Department. An excellent orator with a sharp memory, Prof Ishwari Prasad was not only popular as a History teacher, he also used to take classes of Political Science. Due to sudden death of Prof Beni Prasad, Prof Ishwari Prasad was made Professor and HoD of Political Science.
Once I visited Prof Ishwari Prasad's residence. I saw him consulting the notes in a hurry. When I asked as to why was he consulting the notes, his reply was: "Every teacher must get fully prepared before taking class. I don't like reading notes in the class and giving a dictation to my students." I remember that even students of other subjects used to attend his classes sometimes.
Though Late AU Vice-Chancellor Prof AN Jha, a renowned scholar of English, and Prof Tara Chand, a noted professor of Political Science, had differences, the former chose the latter to succeed him as the AU Vice-Chancellor and even managed to get him elected by the University Court (then V-Cs were elected, not selected).
When supporters of Prof Jha resented his move before the election, he was candid enough to assert: "That is in the best interest of the university."
In 1961, I visited US in the capacity of a visiting lecturer. During my visit to Washington DC, I went to White House, where a certain portion was demarcated for the visitors. I got an opportunity to go up to the room where from the then President John F Kennedy's office was a few metres away. He was going through some files at that time. It was a thrilling experience for me and I stood there for a few moments and kept watching him. A guard asked me to leave but I sought one more minute from him.
On this, the guard questioned: "What are you staring at?" When I replied that I was observing "how the life goes with fame," Kennedy, who had also heard my reply, shook his head in acknowledgement and gave a smile with "Hmm..."