An Open Letter to Prof Amartya Sen

Dear Prof Pompous,

In your much celebrated book The Argumentative India: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity, you have mentioned the ‘enlightened self-interest’ of Emperor Ashoka : ‘For he who does reverence to his own sect while disparaging the sects of others wholly from attachment to his own sect, in reality inflicts, by such conduct, the severest injury on his own sect.’ I am trying to figure out your conduct as the supremo of Nalanda, whether it was an enlightened self-interest, and whether you are aware that you have inflicted severe injuries on your own ‘sect’ of self-righteous liberal academicians and power brokers huddled in the posh localities of Delhi.amartya-sen

I just read your article India: The Stormy Revival of an International University (to appear in the August 13, 2015 issue of the New York Review of Books, as its online page says). What irked me the most that you have wasted 569 words to tell about the ancient university. It reads like an essay written by a high school student. Then, in the second section, you have talked about the revival project in 584 words, but you have failed to provide any new information or perspective about the university. Next, in the third part of the article, you have detailed your opposition the Hindutva politics of the RSS-BJP combine and Mr Narendra Modi, and you have tried to convince the readers that this is the reason your have been removed from the Chancellorship of Nalanda University. This segment contains no less than 762 words. In the fourth segment, in 956 words, you have backed your case by pointing that Indian government led by Mr Modi is appointing its supporters, who have minimal qualifications and are undeserving, as the heads of various institutions. Out of the blue, the fifth part returns to the ancient university talking about two Chinese scholars who studied at the ancient university, the Silk Route, the Nalanda trail etc. in 675 words. The article concludes with preaching some Buddhist institutions to learn from Buddha, and calling for newly established university to be free from authoritarian and sectarian pressures. The concluding part has 420 words. 420 words. Perplexing irony or a mere coincidence!

In a futile effort to place yourself politically non-aligned and non-partisan, you have written exactly one sentence in passing that ‘The record of noninterference of the previous Congress government was far from impeccable.’ However, the aim of this letter is not to review your article. But, I must say that this is a pathetic piece of writing, in content and in intent both. I would like to place some points related to the university that are missing from your article. And they are missing because you have presided over that grand circus performed by your ‘sect’ that gave every rule, every integrity, and every morality a disgusting damn. And Sire, I repeat, you presided over the whole farce played out in the name of a prestigious, iconic and cultural memory. And, let me tell you, I also share your concern about the devastating interference in academia by the Hindutva brigade led by the former CM of Gujarat.

Let me list the points you have concealed in your article:

1. While mentioning about the made-up charges and false propaganda, you have failed to cite the letter from former President of India, and the first visitor of Nalanda University, APJ Abdul Kalam to Mr SM Krishna, then Minister of External Affairs written on July 4, 2011. The third paragraph of this letter reads: ‘Having involved in various academic and administrative proceedings of 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 letter was cited by the then MEA Secy (East) in the Governing Board meeting at Patna (July 6-7, 2011), but it was not revealed to the press at that time by the board. Prof Sen, why Mr Kalam refused to continue as the Visitor? Was his refusal related to the appointment of the VC and her OSD (now the Dean of Academic Planning), who are glorified in your article as ‘the incisive leadership’? Why did you or the Governing Board fail to convince the Visitor?

2. On August 25, 2011, the MEA told the Rajya Sabha that no VC had been appointed for Nalanda University. Interestingly, the same ministry told to an RTI query on November 22, 2010 (sic) that Dr Gopa Sabharwal was appointed to the post of VC on the recommendations of the Nalanda Mentor Group. You may brush-off of this bizarre scenario blaming the officials or terming them technical things. But, Sire, did you not really know what was transpiring?

3. On what grounds the Governing Board allowed Dr Sabharwal to carry home a huge amount of Rs five lac plus as salary every month, more than the combined monthly salary of the VCs of JNU and DU? Though she later cut down her income after the issue came up in media, you never spoke on this, not even in the recent article.

4. Dr Anjana Sharma, then OSD (now the Dean of Academic Planning) got the salary of 3.30 lac per month. No VC in this country got that amount at that time. I am not aware about the present salaries.

5. Both these ladies were not Professors at the time of their ‘appointment’, which I prefer to call coronation. How it happened Professor? Are they Professors now? And how they were appointed, what norms were followed? Do they have any specific academic association with the ‘Nalanda trail’ or ‘tradition’?

6. And the board chaired by you nominated Ms Upinder Singh, daughter of then PM Dr Manmohan Singh, and Ms Nayanjot Lahiri, both from Delhi University, in the adviser committee to help the Sabharwal-Sharma duo. They were representing India in that committee. Will you justify these nominations of non-experts?

7. Why the initial head office was not set-up in Nalanda or Patna, but in Delhi? And what is the justification on the huge expenditures on various meetings?

8. While you have cast apprehensions that the central government prefer the colonial model, however, your article is full of names like Oxford and Cambridge. Your references to Nalanda are limited to its campus and you have conveniently forgotten its foundations of Buddhism.

Sire, your article will appear in mid-August in print, but they have published it online, and there are news items about this piece. But, the article already talks about July as past and you wrote that you retired in July, but that day is still in future.

Professor, you have lived a great life, and are an inspirational figure. At 82, you must bless us all as a grandfather. Leave it to the next generation to fight for Nalanda and the nation. As you gave a miss to the inaugural ceremony of the university despite being its supremo.

Professor, I look forward to your writings and speeches, but do not write such bad pamphlets, please.

Prakash K Ray

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