A provocation for this column is a news item I read in the Kolkata edition of the Times of India. The Governor of the West Bengal State, Keshari Nath Tripathi has sent out a letter of invitation to several city intellectuals for tea at Raj Bhavan on April 26.The letter was sent to atleast 16 writers and social activists.
The purpose was to gauge the mood of the intelligentsia, as in Bengal the pre- panchayat poll violence continues. One or two of the names I know well. Nabanita Sen( the former life partner of Prof.Amartya Sen, my own old friend of the Santiniketan days, is one among them. Shankha Ghosh is another name known to me. Incidentally my education was at Santiniketan, also later at Oxford University. The writers, poets and other names I need not enumerate for constraint of space.
In the present time, as author Sen has said “the present political situation is such that the country and state are going through a terribly bad phase. Everyone can see what is going on and there is no reason why I should keep quiet. In fact, I would expect my fellow invitees to do the same”. Another invitee, the educationist and writer, Pabitra Sarkar said: “It is an honour to be invited by the governor “and so said another invitee, Suranjan Das, the Jadavpur University VC. This news item provoked me to write these lines.
May be other state governors under the BJP regime might also be feeling suffocated to play their legitimate roles as governors.
I know for sure that in the South, the universities are riddled with so many problems. We talk of politicization of universities; this process started right in Tamil Nadu under the Dravidian parties.
Also came the corruption hand in hand! A series of developments, some 500 odd self-financing engineering colleges and a rash of deemed universities came in a rush and the highly chauvinistic Dravdianisation so to say; led to third rate appointment along with slogans like classical Tamil and the buildup of the personality of the then Chief Minister as the savior of the Tamil people. This was a heady wine and the rest is history.
Now, the unimagined happened. An incumbent VC is arrested in daylight right in his office accepting bribe! Another two VCs are charge sheeted for hefty corruption. Right now, the state is grappling with other scandals. Unfortunately, the governor by all means, a highly respected person is caught in this whirlwind of false allegations by vested interests. Corruption in universities is now taken for granted. Even the venerable Visva Bharati was not spared. The President of India as Visitor signed the removal of the VC! What a shame!
In Karnataka, another drama is enacted. The VC and the CM don’t see eye to eye on the university affairs.
I had had some experiences in the university issues when I was the Member of the Madras Legislative Council. It was I who moved a private member’s bill in 1972 in the Council and made a speech that led to the termination of the legendary figure of Dr. A.Laskshmanaswamy Mudaliar’s term as the VC of Madras University. A term that lasted unbroken for 27 years!
Also, I did bring another private member’s bill to set up a full-fledged Tamil University in 1972. It was later established, however, in a very different format and it remains a great disappointment. To reform the Indian universities and their ranking in the international scheme of things is an uphill task, it seems.
First, we have to tackle corruption in VC’s appointment. This step has been now taken by the TN Governor and this is welcome. We need more such efforts. Why even the government, both Central and the States have to take many other steps.
We are living in a democratic state and as such we need radical ideas to make university education as a force for pursuit of new knowledge. Private universities are welcome and so too some specialized institutions. Both arts and liberal humanities need to be encouraged and so too arts and culture pursuits. Foreign students also need to be admitted so that new cross currents would lend some vigour and innovative spirit in our education system.
One more last most important point! The Macaulay Ghost has to be laid. India is an independent country with a long history. Great leaders had envisaged many ideas. Tagore, Gandhi and so many have foreseen the country’s future. I have had thought about education all my years; Greece and Rome, I had visited and studied their histories in some depth. Great civilizations have to be brought in to build a wholesome education that would endow the individuals, the citizens and their world with the best in the world’s past and the present.