Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Deconstructing Amartya Sen's Nalanda debacle

Amartya Sen has written a letter to the New York Review about Nalanda University.
I extract the following. My remarks are in bold.


Classes began in early September last year at a small new international university, called Nalanda, in Bihar in northeast India—one of the most backward parts of the country. Only two faculties—history, and environment and ecology—were holding classes for fewer than twenty students. And yet the opening of Nalanda was the subject of headlines in all the major newspapers in India and received attention across the world. “Ritorno a Nalanda” was the headline in Corriere della Sera.
Actually, Nalanda opened with only 15 students. Within months, two dropped out. There are only 13 students and 11 faculty there now- unless more have escaped.
Setting up an International University in a backward place is silly- smart people won't relocate there. 
That's why every attempt to create a University at Nalanda, from the 50's onward has come a cropper. 
Prof. Philip Altbach is the world expert on what it takes to create a first class international university. It is location, location, location. Nalanda is bound to fail.

'The new dean, Anjana Sharma, and her colleagues, met Altbach last year to convince him that he was mistaken. They failed, but Sharma remains adamant that the professor is wrong. Many of the great universities in the US and Europe probably started in villages, too, she says, adding that there is no reason why a new university must, by necessity, be in a metropolitan area.
"I was at Penn State University in Pennsylvania. When it was first set up, it was a totally agrarian setting, a farming village. But gradually it transformed the area, which now revolves totally around the college," says Sharma.'
Penn State started as an AGRICULTURAL College. Farming is best learnt in the midst of farmland. Still, its location counted against it. It took a hundred years for it to be raised to University status. Even now, it is better known for a sex scandal than academic excellence.
Anjana, an Eng Lit teacher, thinks many great universities in US and Europe started in villages. Which ones? Oxford? Cambridge? Heidelburg? Harvard? Columbia? the Sorbonne?
Sen, with his usual fatuity, mentions that Padua was quite far from Venice. Was it a village when the University was set up? No. It was the oldest city in the region. Like Oxford, like Cambridge, which Sen tells us aren't far from London by car (coz they had cars in the middle ages), Padua flourished despite being far away from the City. Poor idiot, Sen doesn't get that Oxford and Cambridge and Padua were important market towns at a time when few people traveled more than fifty miles from their home in the course of their entire life.
This doesn't mean no green-field University is bound to fail. It might succeed if is part of green-field industrial or housing development. A specialist Research Institute may gain by locating where costs for its type of research are lowest- but that's not the same thing as a University.
Nalanda could have proved Altbach wrong because, such is the demand for a quality education, an Internationally affiliated, 'offshore' (i.e. exempt from Caste based Quotas and Govt. regulations)  Medical School or Business School or Engineering School- even if located in the middle of the Thar Desert- would be a success.
But Nalanda doesn't plan on teaching STEM subjects. Instead, it's a 'soft subject' Post Grad Institution focused on Normative issues not Positive methods. 
Some of its graduates may be able to get Govt. jobs- if they are well connected. Most will be unemployable, even as waiters, because residence in a backward place is bad for networking and acquiring vital living skills- like being able to cross the road safely- and work experience (not that fly swatting can't be a full time job) of a remunerative sort.
Singapore, which mooted this most recent attempt to revive Nalanda, hasn't stumped up a penny for it, even though their former Finance Minister is the new Chancellor. Perhaps he has been appointed so as to ensure his country honors its promise to build a library worth 5 million. But don't hold your breath. George Yeo has no political capital left in Singapore. Furthermore, he is a Catholic and it is likely that the new Pope will find a more attractive, high profile, role for him which doesn't involve visiting some Bihari backwater and which, unlike the Chancellorship of Nalanda, is truly International.

But then Nalanda was never intended to be 'International'- it was Regional simply. It has nothing to do with the Islamic world, or Africa or Europe or Latin America.
Singapore suggested the idea thinking it would help them improve bilateral ties with Thailand and Japan and China.  The Japanese grandiosely promised to spend 100 million but never parted with a red cent.The Chinese did stump up about a million dollars but only so as to put Japan's nose out of joint. Now that 'Buddhism' as a factor in International affairs is a negative, not a positive (think Rohingyas) it won't hand over any more money. Why finance a possible base of support for the Dalai Lama? The Thais stumped up 100,000, but India, and India alone, has had to pick up the tab for everything else.
Thus Nalanda- though mooted as a multi-national (not International) University- failed to get traction and is now an Indian project simply.
It is also a  costly white elephant which was only sanctioned because the daughter of the former P.M and 3 of her College chums were running the show and being paid handsomely for it. Sen, too, was a political appointee- though it must be said he does have an international reputation.
However, he has made a mess of Nalanda because of his grandiosity.
Faculties like 'history or environment & ecology' at a tiny college, with a small library, attract stupid pedants incapable of doing original research. 
Smart kids won't study at a place which has only 15 students, even if one of the 15  is a genuine foreigner from Japan. 
Sen, thinks it remarkable that, nonetheless, Nalanda's opening got International headlines- in fucking Italy.  What conclusion should we draw? The obvious one is that the whole scheme was nothing but over-hyped hot air and that Italian journalists, when treating of far off Ind, are utterly shite in what they choose to highlight.

After all, the announcement of the re-opening, after a gap of 10,000 years, of the University of Atlantis, located on the ocean floor, under 10,000 feet of water, would have attracted even bigger headlines even if only 10 students were in fact enrolled there. 
In fact, it would have made the TV news. A Reality Show would have been set there- provided the Chancellor could be persuaded to actually stay on campus rather than just pay a flying visit once in a blue moon.

 Is Sen- an Economist supposedly concerned about the poor- drawing attention to the scandal of the citizens of a poor country having to pay for a worthless vanity project like Nalanda? 
He thinks it's a good thing, though it diverts resources from the poor to the well-off simply so as to pander to the ego of a few Academic Careerists indulging in a romantic historicist fantasy.
The new venture is meant to be a revival of Nalanda Mahavihara, the oldest university in the world, which began in the early fifth century. By the time the first European university was established in Bologna in 1088, Nalanda had been providing higher education to thousands of students from Asian countries for more than six hundred years.
Nalanda is not the oldest university in the world- or even the Indian sub-continent. Aristotle attended Plato's Academy seven centuries before Nalanda came into existence. Athens remained a University town, with an unbroken intellectual genealogy, attracting non Greek students, including the Emperor Julian, for far longer than Nalanda. 
Compared to Plato's Academy, and its successors, Nalanda's achievements are utterly derisory. 
Sen knows this. He nowhere quotes, as having auctoritas, even a single Nalanda intellectual, while copiously tugging his forelock to availability cascades originating in Plato's Academy.
Perhaps, I'm being harsh.
Maybe Sen is ignorant of History.
Still, if the Chancellor of this new Nalanda doesn't know even elementary facts, even after talking to its History faculty, then he is utterly unfit for his post.
The original university at Nalanda was run by a Buddhist foundation in what was then the prosperous region of Bihar—the original center of Buddhist religion, culture, and enlightenment. Its capital was Pataliputra (now called Patna), which also served, beginning in the third century BC, as the capital of the early all-India empires for more than a thousand years. Nalanda drew students not only from all over India, but also from China, Japan, Korea, Sumatra, and other Asian lands with Buddhist connections, and a few from elsewhere, including Turkey. It was the only institution of higher learning outside China to which any Chinese in the ancient world ever went for education.
Nalanda was a Buddhist seminary and remained a Buddhist seminary though at certain points in time it did serve a broader intellectual purpose. Patna wasn't the capital of 'early all-India empires for more than a thousand years'.  Actually, Rajgir (of which Nalanda is a suburb) has a good defensive location and was important in Lord Buddha's time. Since Patna is better located, Rajgir was eclipsed. Still, even Patna was capital of a truly all-India Empire for a mere century and a half. Sen is telling us stupid lies.  Why? Does he not understand that we can all now access Wikipedia on our Smartphone?

Perhaps, he doesn't know about Wikipedia.

Sen says Nalanda was the only foreign institution of higher learning which Chinese students thought it worthwhile to attend.
Is he right?
Al Razi tells the story of a brilliant Chinese doctor who studied with him in Baghdad over a thousand years ago.  The Nestorian patriarchs had relocated to that city a century previously and received Chinese disciples, some of whom participated in its wider intellectual life.
Medicine was and is a lucrative profession. So was military science. Some enterprising Chinese people studied secular subjects abroad just as some enterprising Indians and Arabs and so on studied abroad because this enabled them to make money or gain fame or simply because they liked studying. 

It is true that Buddhist seminaries in India drew Chinese students.  But this was for purely religious reasons. 

Sen knows Nalanda wasn't 'the only institution of higher learning outside China to which any Chinese in the ancient world went for education.'  because he himself quotes examples of Chinese scholars who learnt Sanskrit or Tocharian or other languages and Creeds outside China. 
Many Chinese Buddhists, who never reached India, got as far as Balkh or Takshashila . Very few got all the way to Nalanda, like Xuanzang. 

Faxian, of course, did get to Patna. But he didn't go to Nalanda. Why? It didn't exist.
Amartya Sen is the Chancellor of a University which has less than 20 students. Some of those students study History. One day, they will learn to read and write and look up Wikipedia. They will then be in a position to see that their Chancellor thought it cool to tell them stupid lies. 
There is nothing unique or magical about Nalanda's location. If some Religious sect- be it Buddhism or Ba'hai'ism or the Brahma Kumaris- sets up there and if that Sect is successful at proselytizing overseas, then, sure, there will be international students and faculty willing to relocate to Nalanda. 
It is because these converts will believe that there is supernatural benefit to be gained unique to this location
However, Secular Scholars can hold no such belief. They relocate to a place where truth is being most actively sought, not to where stupid lies are being recycled by senile Careerists.
By the seventh century Nalanda had ten thousand students, receiving instruction not only in Buddhist philosophy and religious practice, but also in a variety of secular subjects, including languages and literatures, astronomy and other sciences, architecture and sculpture, as well as medicine and public health.
The district of Nalanda was not backward then, was it? Economically it was relatively more prosperous and developed than other regions. It was a 'Schelling focal' solution to a co-ordination problem. Timbuktu was a great academic center when Timbuktu was rich. It isn't rich any longer. Nor is Nalanda. If you say- 'I'm going to Korea to study Computer Science'- I reply, 'Cool! Them Koreans be smart and rich and all Gangnam style!' If you correct me and say 'I'm not going to South Korea, which is rich, but to North Korea where people are starving.' my reply to you is- 'You got shit for brains mate.'
Sen says Nalanda had ten thousand students at a time. Magadha University, set up in 1962, at Bodh Gaya- the place where Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment- has fewer students than that even today on its massive 460 acre Campus. 
Unlike Sen's Nalanda, Magadha Uni offers courses in useful subjects- Maths, Medicine, Engineering. Still, despite its prestigious location, for Buddhists, it hasn't turned into a great International University has it? Why not? Was it because the Indian Govt. was so stupid as not to appoint Amartya Sen its Chancellor from its very inception?
It's because smart people want to learn and earn in big Cities, or established centers of Knowledge industries, not provincial backwaters with poor infrastructure and travel links. Why are smart people so choosy? The answer is they they want to get smarter, if only to help their own people.

As an institution of higher learning, where the entry qualifications were high, Nalanda was supported by a network of other educational organizations that provided information about Nalanda and also helped to prepare students for studying there. Among the Chinese students was the well-known Yi Jing (635–713 AD), who studied in Nalanda for ten years, and wrote what was perhaps the first comparative study of different medical systems, comparing Chinese and Indian medical practices. Before coming to India, he went first to Sumatra (then the base of the Buddhist Srivijaya empire and now a part of Indonesia) to learn Sanskrit. By the seventh century, there were four other universities in Bihar drawing on Buddhism, all largely inspired by Nalanda. They worked in collaboration, though by the tenth century one of them—Vikramshila—emerged as a serious competitor to Nalanda in higher education.
Oh dear! Did Sen just admit that a Chinese guy went to Sumatra to learn Sanskrit? Would that Chinese guy not have learned Sanskrit if he hadn't gone on to Nalanda? Clearly not. Thus, his claim that 'Nalanda was the only institution of higher learning to which any Chinese ever went in the ancient world' must be wrong because, since Sanskrit was not the mother tongue of Sumatrans, this Chinese bloke could only have learned it in some more or less formal 'institution of higher learning'. 
Sen might reply 'well, I meant an institution of the highest learning, not a feeder college' but, unfortunately for him, the monk Yi Jing, whom he quotes, says that the standard of instruction in Srivijaya was as good as at Nalanda- 'In the fortified city of Bhoga, Buddhist priests number more than 1,000, whose minds are bent on learning and good practice. They investigate and study all the subjects that exist just as in India; the rules and ceremonies are not at all different. If a Chinese priest wishes to go to the West in order to hear and read the original scriptures, he had better stay here one or two years and practice the proper rules....'
After more than seven hundred years of successful teaching, Nalanda was destroyed in the 1190s by invading armies from West Asia, which also demolished the other universities in Bihar. The first attack, it is widely believed, was led by the ruthless Turkic conqueror Bakhtiyar Khilji, whose armies devastated many cities and settlements in North India. All the teachers and monks in Nalanda were killed and much of the campus was razed to the ground. Special care was taken to demolish the beautiful statues of Buddha and other Buddhist figures that were spread across the campus. The library—a nine-story building containing thousands of manuscripts—is reputed to have burned for three days. The destruction of Nalanda took place between the establishment of Oxford in 1167 and the founding of Cambridge in 1209.
Muslims also destroyed Buddhist universities in Central Asia and Afghanistan but most such centers re-established themselves under Islamic guise because they were located along important trade-routes. Nalanda did not because it had no such salience. Economics, a subject Amartya Sen teaches, explains why whatever 'acquired advantage' it had accumulated was wholly extinguished with the advent of Muslim overlords. 

The fact is, though Secular Studies had waxed and waned, Nalanda never secularized itself. There were no bleed-through 'Knowledge effects' such that the surrounding countryside became more not less productive. It was a religious center, nothing more. No one bothered to enslave and cart away its Scientists and Astronomers and Mathematicians and Medical practitioners. They had abandoned it long ago.


'A proposal to revive Nalanda as a modern international university, though originating in India (particularly in Bihar), has been a pan-Asian initiative from the beginning. The idea was endorsed by all of the sixteen governments that attended the so-called East Asia Summit in January 2007, meeting in Cebu in the Philippines. They represented mostly Asian countries, including (in addition to India) China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, but also Australia and New Zealand.

The proposal to revive Nalanda was a silly piece of gesture politics which provided a nice sound-bite, nothing more. Back in 2007, there was a lot of silly money on the table to be spent on silly things.
The founders of the new Nalanda didn't want a first-rate University- i.e. one focused on STEM subjects. They wanted to indulge in gesture politics and find cushy berths for senile Party hacks from the ranks of the Careerist, non-STEM subject, Professoriat.

Interchange of ideas across national borders occurs through the Internet. You don't need to go to a backward part of Bihar and get bitten by mosquitoes to interchange ideas. Which University isn't 'open to currents of thought and practice from around the globe'? Only Nalanda, which has 20 students who are being bitten by mosquitoes. 
By contrast, the Nalanda Pali Post Graduate Institute is doing fine. Buddhist scholars will find that its students are perfectly intelligent and doing worthwhile work. That's because Nalanda has salience for Buddhists because they believe their religion was better practiced and understood a thousand years ago. Nalanda doesn't, however, have salience for first rate people interested in current ideas and practices. That's why nobody wants to relocate there. 
Following the summit decision, the project to reestablish Nalanda was led by a “mentor group,” formally appointed by India but with members drawn also from other Asian countries. Distinguished intellectuals, serving as members, come from India as well as China (Wang Bangwei), Japan (Susumu Nakanishi), Singapore (Wang Gungwu and George Yeo), and Thailand (Prapod Assavavirulhakam). The university was established by an act of the Indian Parliament in 2010, and following that, the mentor group became the governing board of the revived Nalanda University. I have until recently been serving as chair of the board and chancellor of the new university.

Wang Bangwei has written about Tagore and China- send him to Shantiniketan by all means, but don't pretend he has any international standing or salience. Susumu Nakanishi is an expert on old Japanese poetry and nothing else. He is also very very old. What value is he adding precisely? Wang Gungwu has studied the Chinese diaspora- which is interesting if you are of Chinese origin but not otherwise- and George Yeo is a politician who lost his seat. The Thai guy is an Assistant Professor who has written a book which no one has reviewed and isn't important enough to rate a Wikipedia page.
Why does Sen mention their names? Does he not understand that if a Uni is supposed to be 'International' you gotta have some European names, some Latino names, some African names- not just Wang Bang Chang and Nagasaki Sushimi?
Apart from some contact with Buddhism, there is literally nothing these guys have in common.
Sen is an Economist. He has a Nobel Prize. Suppose he'd said to Bhagwati- 'I want to create a strong Econ Dept at Nalanda. Since we are ideologically opposed, I want you to come on board and nominate a couple of your brightest students. I'll do the same. That way people might say 'Nalanda is a happening place. There are sure to be fireworks every day. Sign me up.'
But Sen didn't want any rivals on the Board. He doesn't take kindly to criticism. He didn't even bother setting up an Econ Dept.
Why did the previous administration appoint him? Why didn't they take him to task for demanding so much and delivering so little?
The answer is, Amartya Sen vouched for Rahul Gandhi's intelligence and academic attainments.  He attacked Modi. His was a Grace and Favor appointment. Former President of India, Abdul Kalam, a distinguished Scientist, was forced out of his role in the new University by Sen.
This is an extract from a letter Kalam wrote, four years ago, to the relevant Minister- 'Having been involved in various academic and administrative proceedings of the Nalanda University since August 2007, I believe that the candidates to be selected/appointed to the post of chancellor and vice chancellor should be of extraordinary intellect with academic and management expertise."
"Both the chancellor and vice chancellor have to personally involve themselves full-time in Bihar, so that a robust and strong international institution is built,"
This is common sense. A new University needs a hands-on Chancellor, not one who visits once in a blue moon. Sen did not resign any of his other lucrative positions to take charge of Nalanda. The Ministry, therefore, drew the obvious conclusion that the whole thing was a pipe-dream. It should be allowed to wither on the vine. 
The funds for rebuilding Nalanda have come mostly from the government of India, which made a further financial commitment in January 2014 to meet the basic costs until 2021. However, the citizens and governments of a number of other countries have also made contributions, including China, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, and Laos. All the land for the university has been donated by the government of Bihar, which is also assisting with ground and other facilities.
The previous administration committed money it knew it wouldn't have to find because it was bound to lose the elections. But what prompted it do so? It was Sen's threat to resign-
This is from the Times of India-
The government’s dream Nalanda University project has run into trouble with Chancellor Amartya Sen threatening to resign after the finance ministry raised pointed queries on the financial management of this mega revival plan. The crisis, which has been simmering for a while, is believed to have turned ugly just before general elections are to be announced. At its crux is a massive Rs 2,727 crore financial support package to the university over a period of 12 years. The finance ministry’s Department of Expenditure has asked the Ministry of External Affairs, the nodal ministry for the project, the reasons why government rules should not apply to the project. The university is yet to begin functioning fully, and its campus is still under construction in Rajgir. It has a small office in Delhi for the vice-chancellor and faculty members and aims to start its academic session this year. The provocation for the crisis, sources said, was the huge expenditure being incurred on maintaining the governing body of the university, known earlier as the Nalanda Mentor Group, as well as the tax-free salaries to the tune of $80,000 dollars per year to some of the top functionaries of the university. Faculty salary packages range around $50,000-55,000 per year. Upset by these queries, Sen – who is part of the 12-member governing body – conveyed to the MEA at the highest levels that he would resign if such objections were not opposed and quashed, source said. He is learnt to have given a similar message to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Planning Commission. Taken aback, the government is said to be looking at some of the amendments to the Nalanda University Act that could possibly grant full financial autonomy and also a permanent tenure to the university top brass. The university’s argument has been that full autonomy must mean complete financial independence. But since the government is putting much of the money, the finance ministry feels there has to be oversight and accountability – a view that has takers even in the MEA. - See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/amartya-sen-threatens-to-quit-nalanda-univ-over-funds-queries/#sthash.sLmpv2BF.dpuf
Why did Pranab Mukherjee object, as Finance Minister, object to Sen's plea not just for more money but also complete autonomy? The answer is that India is a country under the rule of law. He would have been acting ultra vires if he just handed over money without any sort of accountability. The C.A.G- the Govts. auditor- had already queried irregularities. The National Security Adviser had stated that Sen's demand for diplomatic status for Nalanda- such that Indians working there would have legal immunity to the laws of their own country- was unconstitutional and unprecedented.  
Mukherjee is not stupid. He saw that Sen was out of control.
Later, as ex officio 'visitor' of Nalanda, he dawdled over the reappointment of Sen as Chancellor till he resigned in a fit of pique, believing that the Govt. would cave and grant more money to get him back on board. 
Some months have gone by. Sen now believes he was sacked by the Monstrous Modi because he wouldn't shout zeig heil, or whatever the Indian equivalent is, and go around burning Churches.
Sen has a history of believing crazy things. He thought the Bengal famine was caused by workers in the Cities eating 5 times as much rice as they had previously, with the result that their brothers in the villages starved to death.
The reestablished Nalanda University will eventually have its new campus in the ancient town of Rajgir, a few miles away from the old Nalanda. The design and planning of the new campus, by the well-known architectural firm Vastu Shilpa Consultants (chosen by an international competition), are now completed, and the work of construction is about to begin. Since even the first phase of the work will take a few years, Nalanda has started functioning, on a small scale, in rented premises in Rajgir, under the incisive leadership of the vice-chancellor, Dr. Gopa Sabharwal, and the dean of academic planning, Dr. Anjana Sharma.
Gopa Sabhrawal was an Associate Professor of Sociology at a tony Women's College. Why did Sen pick her? She refused to move to Nalanda and remained in New Delhi. Her buddy from the English Dept. of that same Women's College is the Dean of Academic planning. Their salaries are very high. Their accomplishments microscopic.
Most of the first students at Nalanda have come from India, but there are some from other Asian countries as well (Japan and Bhutan in particular), and the teachers have been recruited not just from India, but also from the United States, Germany, and South Korea. In addition to classes now being taught in history, environmental studies, and ecology, plans are being made for teaching economics and development studies, public health, and Buddhist philosophy and comparative religions. Eventually, Nalanda will offer courses in international relations, linguistics, and literature, as well as information science and technology.
There is one Japanese student and one from Bhutan. There are no other foreign students. Since Bhutanese post-grad students come to India anyway, and also because Bhutan is a devoutly Buddhist country, the presence of a Bhutanese student scarcely militates to the conclusion that Nalanda is a center of secular excellence attracting international students.

In my visits to the campus, I have been impressed by the quality of teaching and discussion among the faculty and students. In view of the deep skepticism that many critics had earlier expressed about the possibility of having a successful international university in a remote and backward part of India, there is something very reassuring about what has been achieved, and about the academic climate that has already become palpable.
Sen was also impressed by Rahul Gandhi's intelligence. Shame the voters weren't. Nalanda has fully justified skepticism regarding its prospects. Had Abdul Kalam been in charge, it might have amounted to something. Sen killed it off and is proudly displaying its carcass.


“Ritorno a Nalanda” was a remarkable and hopeful moment. But relations have become troubled between the newly elected government of India and the governing board of Nalanda University. The previous coalition government, with the National Congress Party as its dominant partner, initiated the revival of Nalanda University in collaboration with the government of Bihar and the East Asia Summit. When the national government lost the general elections in the spring of 2014, it was replaced by members of a very different political alignment, with a new prime minister, Narendra Modi, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)— a part of the powerful Hindutva movement, which is dedicated to promoting India’s Hindu traditions, with Modi himself supporting not only Hindutva but also the goals of private business.
Nalanda isn't like Harvard or Oxford. It doesn't have a massive endowment and generous alumni. It gets its money from the Govt. 
Sen supported the previous Administration and calumnied the present P.M. If he'd cared about Nalanda, he'd have jumped rather than waiting to be pushed.
Sen is against not just 'Hindutva' (i.e. Hindu-ness), he's also against the goals of private business. 
What is he in favor of? 
Well, he wants a Sociology lecturer and her English lecturer chum, from an tony Woman's College (set up by a private businessman) to receive vast salaries to preside over 20 students who aren't studying either Sociology or English.
At the time of the general elections, I saw it my duty, as a citizen of India, to argue publicly against Modi’s sectarian political leadership, which posed a threat to India’s long-standing commitment to secularism. While critical of some features of the Congress-led coalition government (particularly its growing inefficiency and corruption), I strongly feared that minorities, particularly Muslims as well as Christians, would be insecure under Modi’s rule. This fear was based partly on his long history as a member—and a public advocate (or pracharak)—of the Hindu right-wing movement called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The fear was also based on the history of communal violence in Gujarat when Modi was chief minister of the state. More than a thousand people, mostly Muslims, perished in the riots there in 2002. Modi had a good reputation as an economic administrator in Gujarat but he failed to take effective action to protect non-Hindus from attack. My worries, I am afraid, have not been dispelled (despite verbal reassurances from Modi). Under the new regime, there have been sporadic occurrences of church burning and the concerted efforts of Hindutva activists to encourage conversion of non-Hindus to Hinduism, called ghar wapsi (“returning home”).
I was, therefore, not entirely surprised to find that the new government opposed my continuing as chancellor of Nalanda University. However, the larger issue concerns the academic independence of institutions of higher learning. The new government and its allies have been active in trying to impose their own views on many academic institutions, and Nalanda’s academic independence has been under considerable threat over the last year. Many of the statutes concerning the governance of Nalanda that were passed by the board (as it was authorized to do) have not been acted on or even presented by the government to the Visitor of the University—the president of India—for endorsement. (All such statutes require formal government approval before they become effective.) The government tried suddenly, without any consultation with the governing board, to make radical changes in the board’s membership—a move that did not work because the proposed changes violated provisions of the Nalanda University Act passed by the Indian Parliament in 2010.
Sen thought communal violence would escalate under Modi. It has fallen. Sen claims to harbor a fear for which he can quote no objective evidence. 
This is what Wikipedia has to say on Church attacks- It was reported by some sections of the media that there has been an increase in the incidents of violence against Christians since the new BJP government under P.M Narendra Modi came to power after the 2014 general election.[37][38][39] Though in an investigation of crime records shows that church attack figures under NDA rule match those under UPA [40] Several churches were attacked in the capitalDelhi since December 2014,[41] St. Sebastian's Church, which was burned.[42] A church in Mangalorewas attacked in February 2015.[43][44] In March 2015, a 71-year-old nun was gang raped in West Bengalduring an attack on a convent school in which the school's chapel was ransacked and sacred items stolen.,[45][46][47] later on the Police identified all the 8 perpetrators and arrested six of them, two of which were Bangadeshi nationals.[48][49][50] The next day, a church building under construction was vandalised in Haryana.[51][52] St. George church in Mumbai was also attacked by masked persons.[53] 4 people were arrested by the police including a person who operated a gambling den, the police claimed that the accused were taking revenge on the church because they suspected that a complaint from St. George's Church had led to a police raid on their illegal gambling den.[54] In the same month, the cathedral of Jabalpur was attacked and more than a dozen people were injured.[55] The same cathedral had earlier been attacked in 2008 and the entire altar burnt down.[56] In April 2015, St. Mary's Church in Agra was vandalised and statues of Mother Mary and the Infant Jesus were damaged.[57] Police arrested a Muslim man who reportedly was angry about being rejected by a Christian girl.[58] In June, a nun was sexually assaulted in Raipur.[59]Yet again, there was no political angle to the crime.
Nalanda was never independent. Sen was a partisan of the previous Govt. He is on record repeatedly attacking Narendra Modi. He appointed a Vice Chancellor who was completely unqualified in every way except that of being close to the then Prime Minister's daughter. This wasn't 'autonomy', it was a quid pro quo for saying Rahul Gandhi was intelligent and Modi a monster.
Sen could have made Nalanda independent by securing it private donors or NGO or Overseas Development subventions. The previous Ministry only insisted it retain control because it was footing the bill. Sen has a disdain for 'private businesses'. But he couldn't get NGO or Development aid money either because such organizations have auditors who would have thrown a fit at the waste of money.  Nalanda is a worthless white elephant. It is a money pit. Things might have been different if Kalam had been put in charge but once Sen got involved, Nalanda was doomed.
The government has also tried, much more successfully, to remove me as chancellor, overruling the unanimous decision of Nalanda’s governing board that I should continue—a decision arrived at in the board’s meeting in January chaired by George Yeo, the former foreign minister of Singapore. While I appreciated the unanimous support, it soon became clear to me that the tension between the government and the governing board of Nalanda over my continuing as chancellor was proving to be a barrier to the work of rebuilding the school. It also became obvious that the government’s hostility would prevent me from being an effective leader. I told the board that, under the circumstances, I will not accept reappointment when my present term comes to an end in mid-July of this year.
In fact, I strongly believe that it should not be difficult to find a very distinguished candidate who understands the vision that lies behind Nalanda’s revival and appreciates what Nalanda has to offer to contemporary higher education in India and elsewhere. It is, however, extremely important to make sure that the academic independence of Nalanda under the new chancellor is respected. The university must not be subject to partisan political pressure.
Sen has an uncanny gift for giving the worst advice possible. He knows the BJP has a majority. He also knows that the BJP have plenty of nut-job Professors. If Nalanda is made independent, who wins? Bajrang Dal type loony-toons. Not even Modi will be able to turf them out once they get their feet under the table.
The central issue goes well beyond the headline of a well-researched recent report in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica: “Il Nobel e il Premier: Sen contro Modi.” While it is certainly true that the Modi government is not pleased with the political positions I have taken, the confrontation is ultimately not about personalities. It is about the principles governing public institutions, particularly the importance of academic independence.
Why is Sen quoting Italian newspapers? Italians know shit about India. 'Sen vs Modi' is a joke. Indians simply don't care about Sen's opinions. Modi is not interested in Sen or Nussbaum. Nobody cares about those two hacks. Modi is more interested in Hugh Jackman and the Star Wars franchise because whether Wolverine is chosen to play Hans Solo might conceivably impact on the welfare of Indians. Sen-shite and Nussbaum-nonsense are toxic merely.
Unfortunately, the government’s pressures on Nalanda are part of a general pattern of interference in academic leadership across the country. For example, in January of this year, Dr. Sandip Trivedi, a widely respected physicist, was appointed the director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR)—perhaps the most prestigious scientific institution in India—by a selection committee chaired by one of India’s most well-known scientists, C.N.R. Rao. But the institute was told by the prime minister’s office that Trivedi had to be removed from his post, and Trivedi stepped down. This led to a good deal of public criticism, and the government told the TIFR in June that Trivedi could return as director.
The PMO wants posts be to advertised before an appointment is made. In Trivedi's case, the Tata Institute had actually put a little thought into the appointment the previous year so it was a mistake for the Govt. to interfere though some of Trivedi's colleagues still voiced their opposition to his appointment. Sen is trying to make out that Trivedi had been removed for an ideological reason and then reinstated because of 'public criticism'- i.e the BJP are a bunch of cowardly Nazis. This is paranoid fantasy.
Even if this were not the case, the fact is the BJP has a majority. It can pack academia with its own goons and then pass a law ensuring 'Academic independence' so that they choose their own successors in perpetuity. Sen is being stupid in advocating this now. He should have got it through while his friends were in power to protect his own Grace and Favour appointment. That is, if he really cared.
In December, Raghunath Shevgaonkar, the well-known director of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi, also resigned from his position, alleging government interference in the IIT’s decisions.
But the Govt. did not replace Shevgaonkar (who resigned after his setting up of an IIT affiliate in Mauritus was queried) for a full 6 months. Even then, an officiating director was appointed till a proper selection procedure could be implemented.
 In March, Dr. Anil Kakodkar, one of the leading nuclear scientists of India (and a former chair of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission), who chaired the governing board of the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, protested against meddling by the government and made it clear that he was unwilling to serve in future activities.
The Kakodkar committee on IIT reform suggested hiking the fees by 500%. The Human Resources Ministry is understandably opposed to a move which will spark a middle class backlash. This has nothing to do with which party is in power. The bureaucrats don't want premier institutions, nurtured on Govt. money, to turn into private Corporations like Harvard or Princeton- or Nalanda as per Sen's demands.
In late February the government asked the famous writer Sethumadhavan to leave his position as chairman of the National Book Trust, which was set up decades ago as “an autonomous body under the Ministry of Education.” The trust has had an excellent record of supporting the publication of worthy books. Following Sethumadhavan’s removal, his position was given to a Hindutva ideologue, Baldev Sharma, a former editor of the journal Panchajanya, which The Times of India described as “the RSS mouthpiece.” More recently, the government has proposed a bill that would give it direct control over India’s thirteen Institutes of Management (IIM), the country’s main institutions for postgraduate education in management. This has been sharply protested by the directors and chairmen of the institutes themselves.
So, Sen is aware that the Govt. intends to turf out opponents and put in their own loyalists. He knows that this has happened in the past under regimes which he was friendly with.  His information set isn't glaringly deficient. Let us see whether he can draw a tenable conclusion.
It is hard not to conclude that the government has difficulty in appreciating the distinction between (1) an autonomous institution supported by the government, using state resources, and (2) an institution under the direct command of the government currently in office. 
Oh dear. Sen thinks Govts. do bad things because they don't appreciate some very subtle distinction only he can fathom. In this case, he assumes that Modi is too stupid to understand that you can pay a guy for something without controlling that guy. It's like when you go to the doctor and pay him to examine your piles. Just because you pay him, you don't also control him. You can't say 'kiss my ass while you are at it' because the Doctor is autonomous. Sen thinks Modi doesn't understand this. But Modi does understand, everybody understands, that there is a distinction between paying for something provided by an autonomous principal and hiring an agent to produce it for you.
But autonomy does not arise by purely legal means. That's why a big Company isn't allowed to hire as its exclusive auditor a small company with no other viable client.
An institution can only be autonomous if
1) it is fit for purpose. Otherwise there will be no public outcry if the Govt scraps it in favor of something better. Nalanda isn't fit for purpose. A lot of University Depts aren't. IIT's and IIMs and places doing STEM research are fit for purpose.  They have countervailing power. They have 'push back' and I hope they exercise it.
2) It has adequate transfer earnings and isn't rent seeking simply. 
Nalanda only exists by virtue of rent associated with a vanished Seminary.
3) (which is related to 1 and 2) It can find alternative funding or reconstitute itself somewhere else.  
For many hundreds of years universities in Europe have been helped to become academically excellent by governments that respect their autonomy. The British protect academic independence with much care in their own country even though the British rulers of colonial India very often violated the independence of public academic institutions. The government of India seems to prefer the colonial model.
Sen is lying. No European Govt. ever carried on respecting the Medieval autonomy of the Universities. Sen was a good boy at Cambridge. He didn't rape a barmaid and then claim immunity from the Magistrate by pleading 'benefit of clergy'. Still, from the history of his own College, he knows that only those European States which rode rough shod over the liberties of ancient University Corporations could, albeit only if other circumstances were favorable, see a burgeoning of useful research within their precincts. 
Useful research, Dr. Sen. Not your worthless shite.

No comments:

Post a Comment