Humiliating Sen dents India's image

The situation in which Nobel laureate Amartya Sen had to opt out of the chancellorship of the Nalanda University was certainly of the NDA government’s making, and it reflects poorly on it. Sen has been acting as the university’s chancellor ever since it was set up in 2010. His term ends in July and the governing body had unanimously voted for his reappointment over a month ago. He has now withdrawn his name, in effect his consent, as the government has been silent on the proposal and President Pranab Mukherjee has not acted on the matter even after a month. Sen is right to feel that the prolonged lack of action meant disapproval by the government of his candidature, and he has opted out to maintain his self-respect and honour.

The treatment meted out by the government to India’s best-known public intellectual is shameful. The only likely reason for it is that Sen has been a critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and of the development model and policies of the NDA government. Sen has himself mentioned this in his letter to the members of the governing board. He had been associated with the idea of a revived Nalanda university  ever since it started getting serious attention. It is an ambitious project to restore an ancient seat of learning and has the support and involvement of many countries from South Asia where it was once popular. The board of governors has representatives from these countries. A person of Sen’s standing and credentials was the best choice to lead the university and it was considered that he would draw the best teachers and scholars to it. Now that he has opted out, the loss is the university’s and not his. It lowers the country’s image.

The government’s explanation that the delay was only procedural does not stand to scrutiny. It could only have been deliberate and meant to send a message to Sen. That amounted to humiliating an eminent person and academic about whom the country can only be proud. The government also does not seem to be embarrassed or apologetic about its action. There are, in fact, even vile attempts from the NDA camp, though unofficial, to insult him with corruption charges. What is involved is not just the ill treatment of Sen. As he himself said, “academic governance in India remains so deeply vulnerable to the opinions of the ruling government’’. The government has worsened its record on it.
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