In a 4000 word candid essay about to be published in the August issue of the New York Review of Books, Sen has written about his exit from Nalanda University and said that Nalanda is by no means an isolated incident but part of a wide ranging attempt by the Modi government to seize direct control over academic institutions.
Speaking exclusively to TOI ahead of the publication of the essay, Sen lashed out at what he called the “extraordinarily large” interference by the government in academia. He also said the economy is doing badly, and he is extremely worried that budgets for health and education have been drastically slashed. “I have never been anti industry but no country can become an industrial giant with an uneducated and unhealthy labour force,” Sen said.
Sen is slated to step down as Chancellor of Nalanda on July 17, when he will be replaced by George Yeo, former foreign minister of Singapore.
“I was certainly ousted from Nalanda,” Sen 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 pointed out that at the TIFR, the government refused to ratify the director’s-Dr Sandip Trivedi’s__ appointment. This has never happened under any previous PM. Sen said its not just the HRD ministry but the entire Modi government which is to blame, as Nalanda comes under the MEA.
He pointed out that at the NBT, its head the famous writer Sethumadhavan was asked to step down and an RSS ideologue was appointed as head. He also said that at the ICCR, Dr Lokesh Chandra who has been appointed is someone who believes PM Modi was a greater personality that Mahatma Gandhi. He said at the ICHR, the head, Yellapragada Sudarshan Rao has not done any historical research, 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.
“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.”
He also said the Modi government has failed to understand that a market economy needs successful public services. “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 also believes that while the UPA’s 2013 Land Acquisition bill was confusing, the new NDA bill is “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’s forthcoming book ‘The Country Of First Boys’, a collection of essays, also dwells on his experiences at Nalanda.