Modi government sought control over Nalanda University, says Amartya Sen

The Narendra Modi government made "extraordinarily large" interference in the functioning of educational institutions and sought direct control, making the free functioning of such institutions difficult, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said months after he withdrew his candidature as chancellor of Nalanda University, in Bihar.

Sen, who will soon be replaced by George Yeo, the former foreign minister of Singapore, said this in an yet-to-be published essay on his exit from Nalanada University.

In a scathing attack on the current regime, Sen has once again blamed the Modi government for his exit from Nalanda University.

Sen made the accusations in an interview with The Times of India ahead of the publication of an essay. The 4,000-word essay will appear in the August issue of the New York Review of Books.

"I have never been anti-industry but no country can become an industrial giant with an uneducated and unhealthy labour force," Sen said.

"I was certainly ousted from Nalanda,'' he said.

"Some members of the board, especially the foreign members were keen on carrying on the battle for me but I stepped aside as I did not want to be an ineffective leader. The government may have held up finances or statues had I continued."

"Nalanda not a one off incident. Nothing in this scale of interference has happened before. Every institution where the government has a formal role is being converted into where the government has a substantive role."

Sen further noted that the government refused to ratify the director's appointment at the TIFR. Also, A Sethumadhavan was asked to resign as the chairman of National Book Trust and an RSS ideologue was appointed instead, added Sen.

Dr Lokesh Chandra, who was appointed as the new president of Indian Council for Cultural Relations last year, believes that PM Modi is a greater personality than Mahatma Gandhi, said Sen.

Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, the current chairperson of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), has not done any historical research and instead is someone who has written an article saying the caste system was wrongly blamed for being exploitative when it did a lot of good for India, claimed Sen.

"The Delhi IIT director, Raghunath Shevgaonkar resigned, the IIT Bombay Board chairman Anil Kakodkar expressed that he could not help the government in anything in the future, for the IIMs they have introduced a bill where instead of having indirect power of withholding the signature which they did in my case or they did in Trivedi's case, now they would directly like to appoint the director. That's the new bill. Instead of having effective power, this becomes direct control."

Taking on the government for failing to understand that a market economy needs successful public services, Sen said, "India spends 1.2 per cent of GDP on public healthcare, China spends 3 per cent. Now even that 1.2 has been cut to 1 per cent. There is confusion in India is wanting high growth rates like China but overlooking that China has improved public services dramatically.

It has pretty much guaranteed healthcare for all, they have everyone in school, they have complete coverage. That has been the Asian pattern of development. You do it together: market economy and the state's role. The market economy needs a complentarity with the public services."

He further described NDA's Land Acquisition Bill as "comprehensively wrong".

What has gone wrong with this government is the fundamental understanding that human beings are at the centre of development, Sen said.

Sen withdrew his candidature as chancellor of Nalanda University on 20 February, alleging that the government does not want him to continue to head the prestigious multi-nation initiative (See: Amartya Sen blasts govt for subverting varsities, refuses 2nd Nalanda term).

Sen, whose term as chancellor ends in July, was unanimously picked by the Nalanda University governing board at its last meeting 13-14 January this year.