The main gate of Nalanda University in Bihar. Photo: University website (

By Nalin Verma / The Wire

The current plight of the much-coveted Nalanda University in Bihar is an apt instance to highlight how the Narendra Modi-led dispensation has systematically annihilated the already battered higher education in the state. Many believe that the centuries-old university, which was revived in 2010 as part of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s vision to turn the state into a knowledge capital again, has been suffering because of the Sangh parivar’s larger design to saffronise education at all levels across India.

The first victim of the RSS-BJP’s saffronisation of education was Nalanda University – conceived as a truly international university with 18 countries, including China, Japan and Singapore, as its stakeholders under the broader patronage of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

The idea behind opening Nalanda University was to revive the glory of the ancient seat of learning at Nalanda that existed for 750 years from the fifth century to the 13th century, drawing scholars and students from across the world. Its ruins are still a treasured heritage for Indians in particular and the world at large.

At the initiative of Nitish Kumar, the then president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam addressing the joint session of the Bihar legislature on March 28, 2006 proposed the idea of reviving Nalanda University. Subsequently, the Bihar legislature passed the Bill for the creation of the Nalanda University, and eventually, on November 25, 2010, the University came into existence through an Act of parliament. The then Manmohan Singh government fully supported Nitish Kumar in his efforts though he was part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Although Nalanda University was under the MEA, Nitish was allowed to have his say and way. He roped in Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and many other academic leaders of Asia, including reputed educationist and external affairs minister of Singapore George Yeo. Amartya Sen – who had developed an appreciation for Nitish Kumar’s efforts – became the first chairman of the University’s governing board and its first chancellor.

The Nobel laureate economist took a personal interest in Nalanda University. Addressing a meeting in Patna at Nitish Kumar’s invitation Amartya recalled his emotional link with the ancient seat of learning.

“My grandfather and philosopher Kshiti Mohan Sen had brought me to the ruins of Nalanda when I was barely a 10-year-old boy. What my grandfather told me about Nalanda was still etched in the tendrils of my mind,” Sen had said, drawing applause from the audience of scholars at Patna’s planetarium in 2010.

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