Amartya Sen: Intellectual dilettantism at India’s expense – Anirban Ganguly

Dr Anirban Ganguly“Under Prof. Sen’s chancellorship, all that the Nalanda University has really achieved is an architectural monstrosity of half a building and a barbed wire fence around the periphery of the campus.” – Dr Anirban Ganguly

When Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen, Chancellor of the supposedly modern version of the Nalanda University, accuses the Government of India of interference in education, especially in the context of the Nalanda University, he is essentially declining to be accountable to the people of India who are the principal contributors of this project.

Prof Amartya SenThe label international, at least in the Indian educational context, whatever may be Prof. Sen’s understanding or interpretation of it, does not entail unbridled and unaccounted authority over the shaping or the directing of destinies of our institutions.

The nomenclature “international” in the context of Indian education is being increasingly seen by a section in the academia, a section which is mostly based abroad and with no known commitment or responsibility towards India’s past or present, as a cover to indulge in intellectual dilettantism at expense of the Indian system and Indian taxpayer’s hard-earned resources.

While the hallowed and plentiful environs of Harvard and Cambridge may encourage and patronise such a dilettante spirit, sustaining and celebrating those who never tire of conjuring and expanding fault-lines of Indian society, the Indian system, facing an educational challenge of various dimensions, can hardly afford the expensive intellectual adventurousness that Prof. Sen and his ilk so appreciatively encourage and would like to indulge in here.

A Nobel may have transformed Prof. Sen into a global philosopher and citoyen du monde; it does not, however, entitle him to coerce and push through, by stringing a series of unsupported accusations, a change of system that is detrimental to the health of the nation—both in terms of education and security. Of course, Prof. Sen and the governing Nalanda University Office Rajgirboard of the Nalanda University, filled to the brim with his selections and intellectual disciples, have a lot to answer in terms of the non-achievements of landmarks in bringing the project to fruition.

A look at a few of these may bring some perspective in the discussion. The first of these is the lack of international support for the university despite Prof. Sen’s supposed high moral standing in the international academic community. The Nalanda governing board has been incapable of attracting any international donations worth the name, and the project continues to be dependent on the support of the Government of India. Neither have the majority of Asian countries, countries which had civilisationally established scholarly links with the ancient and original Nalanda, have even been invited or involved in the project.

Despite spending Rs 1,71,11,303 in five meetings, mostly in foreign locales, between July 2007 and February 2009, the governing board, then known as the mentor’s group, never submitted a report nor did it achieve any breakthrough in terms of infrastructure and investments. Under Prof. Sen’s chancellorship, all that the Nalanda University has really achieved is an architectural monstrosity of half a building and a barbed wire fence around the periphery of the campus.

Dr Gopa SabharwalThe selection of the Vice-Chancellor was done at Prof. Sen’s behest bypassing all stipulations laid down by the University Grants Commission—the “international” cloak was aggressively used in such cases, the fixing of “international” salaries too was done much in the same manner. The recruitment of faculties then as now continues to be done in an opaque manner, otherwise how does one explain the hiring of a professor, formerly an anthropologist from Christ Church with a specialisation in Rajasthani folk literature, to the historical studies department of Nalanda?

These are a few examples—the tip so to say. A detailed performance audit may truly reveal how far Prof. Sen has actually remained loyal to his professed ideals and commitment to India’s well-being. – The New Indian Express, 1 March 2015

» Dr Ganguly is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. Follow him on Twitter @anirbanganguly

Nalanda Mentors

Abdul Kalam's letter to S. M. Krishna

2 Responses

  1. STATEMENT OF DR. SUBRAMANIAN SWAMY ON 24.02.2015

    I demand for four reasons that the now retired Professor Amartya Sen be sacked from the Chancellor’s post in the newly set up Nalanda University.

    1) Sen though paid an annual salary of Rs. 50 lakhs (in US $ tax free) is normally redent in USA, and comes to India briefly in the winter months free of charge First Class on Air India. His total emoluments is far in excess of the service he provides.

    2) The CAG Report on the expenses incurred for building construction of the University and perquisites of Prof. Sen and others for administering the University and the delay in meeting easy targets for construction, is full of irregularities and is, prima facie, of corruption.

    3) The former President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalaam resigned from the post of Visitor of the University in 2011 in disgust, objecting to Sen’s arbitrariness and malafide actions.

    4) The nodal Ministry of External Affairs for the University, objected in writing to Sen’s arbitrary and opaque manner of appointing as Vice Chancellor Ms Gopa Sabharwal, an Assistant Professor. i.e. a junior lady faculty member, from JNU. Full Professors refused to join under a much junior-faculty member as Vice Chancellor. The CAG in its Report had also objected to the appointment and the salary fixed for her.

    5) In 2013-14, the Ministry of Finance also objected to the irregular way Sen was operating the large Special Dispensation Fund of the University. There was no transparency or accountability of the use of these funds

    6) So far about Rs. 3000 crores of tax payers money has been recklessly spent by Prof. Sen, for which he has to be made accountable.

    Hence I demand that the Government prosecute Prof. Sen and his chosen few under the Prevention of Corruption Act, and under IPC Sections 120B, 406 and 420 or face a PIL from me.

    (SUBRAMANIAN SWAMY)

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