Professor Amartya Sen has withdrawn his candidature for the Second Term as Chancellor of Nalanda University, the prestigious International University the Indian government has set up. The reason is apparent reluctance of powers that be in Delhi to clear his appointment, even after being elected by the University board, and use the protocol requirement of President's approval of the Board Decision to signal their disapproval to Professor Sen's appointment.
Professor Sen's resignation has been met with the usual flood of ridicule on social media by the current Prime Minister's ardent supporters. Professor Sen was always an outspoken critic of the current Prime Minister on ground of his Human Rights records, and once he came to power, a retribution was expected. Indeed, Professor Sen's resignation taints the whole Nalanda University project - who wants to go to an university lorded over by Fascist lackeys - and undermines India's soft power further.
However, this may not matter to India's Human Resources Minister, who owes her job to loyalty rather than ability and usually the blunt instrument to smother academic freedom in India (see my earlier post on Academic Freedom in India). Just as China opens up its Higher Education and shows serious aspirations to be one of the best in the World, the Indian government continues to treat Higher Education just as the Colonial Administrators did - a machine for making Babus - to the peril of the country.
India is the only country trying to build a modern economy with a poorly educated labour force, says Professor Sen. Indeed, the current ideology of wining-and-dining foreign investors and handing out tax and other inducements to foreign investors to invest in India, rather than making a compelling case for them to come in for the educated labour force, is very much prevalent in this administration, which, as signaled by its choice of HRD Minister, does not value education beyond its uses for ideological propaganda.
And, this is my broad point about Professor Sens resignation, that it is not just violation of academic freedom, which each isolated case indeed appears to be, but rather a joined-up ideological campaign to turn the Indian academia into an instrument of mind-mending. I am not suggesting grand designs, but the usual banality of evil, the step-by-step violation that may eventually end up in a grand design. While Indians enjoy the country being commended for its democracy, Indians have started taking the democracy for granted. There are instances in history, where ruthless authoritarians, preaching economic well-being, had taken over democracies from within and led it to ruin. At those precise points in history, the population of those unfortunate countries took its political system for granted - and were ready to trade a little liberty for a little prosperity. This event reminds me again that India faces a real danger - of a gradual authoritarian take-over - and we may have started seeing early symptoms of it.
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