Nalanda International University and Politics

Why do some people see only the darker side of any endevour to create a great thing? Why do they start having suspicion about the good intentions of some who can dream, take lessons from the failures in past and get ahead?

I came across one such article by Shri Sunanda K Dutta-Ray on ‘ Reviving Nalanda’ in Business Standard. Shri Dutta-Ray is ‘not sure whether the $1 billion Nalanda Mark II project is meant to be a temple of higher learning, a money-making investment or an exercise in soft power to strengthen ties with China and Japan, draw Australasia closer and provide a cultural focal point for ASEAN and East Asia Summit countries.’ He goes further, “With most East Asian Summit members endorsing the plan at last January’s Manila summit, it sounds even more like politics than academics.”

Why is Duta-Ray so concerned and skeptical, when Amartya Sen is not? Why can’t he wait for a year or two and see the progress, when he himself mentions of “Amartya Sen, the NMG chairman, announcing last week that Nalanda would be ‘functioning in a small way’ by 2009 with ‘a few thousand students’ from all over the world. The curriculum would include philosophy and Buddhist studies, Asian history and classical and modern languages. Scientific research will follow.”

And what is wrong if the retired South Block mandarin bubbled about six-lane highways, airports at Gaya and even Nalanda and de luxe hotels, organised pilgrim tours, crash courses in Hindu and Buddhist thought, yoga centres, ayurvedic clinics, meditation homes and all manner of facilities for rich intellectual pilgrims? Boddha Gaya is already an International airport. It can expand as and when required. It can be connected to the university site by a six-lane road. An international city can always be conceptualized and realized, though as separate project, in the vicinity of the University. It can consist of the second homes of the intellectuals of Buddhists countries who wish to spend their last part of life near a place of pilgrimage. What used to be Varanasi for Hindus, Boddh Gaya can be for Buddhists.

What is wrong if an eight-lane corridor is built by China, the master infrastructure builder, between Vaisalli and Boddha Gaya as a good gesture or a diplomatic drive? Rich Jains from Gujarat can build hotels. Buddhist industrialists from Japan and Thailand can set up a number of technical training schools and help developing a manufacturing hub along the super expressway to make the people of the state, that gave them their religion, a little more prosperous.

If one is to build a great institution, one must dream. What is wrong in expecting some benevolent India baiters from US such as Bill Gates or John Chambers to set up the best software engineering institute of the world in the campus of Nalanda International University? Why can’t some influential indologists from US, UK, and Germany make the best institutions and the governments of their countries participate in the project?

Why should Dutta-Ray be so skeptical if Railway’s initiative failed as Japanese travelers demand high standards of catering, comfort, punctuality, hygiene and cleanliness? After all our own managers have created Delhi Metro too.

I have been writing about the project myself for quite sometime. Even as a person older than Dutta-Ray, I have a hope that at least this project with interest shown by the present chief minister, with the experiences of NK Singh, and with mentors such as Amartya Sen, and blessings from the former President Kalam and others, will come up on a grand enough scale in next few years to give Bihar a place of pride in the world of education and knowledge. Why can’t Nalanda International University become the best in India and one of the best in the world?

Why should one bother why Singapore and China have chosen to play a significant role in the project till they keep on assisting in realizing the big dream in interest of the state and the nation?

And let Mr. Dutta-Ray understand that such a project has been successfully established in the country. ISB, Hyderabad is one such institution and the person behind that is Rajat Gupta of McKinsey. And Gupta happens to be from Bengal. Vedanta University is another project of a huge dimension coming up in Orissa.

I wish as an alumnus of IIT, Kharagpur, Rajat Gupta would have been also associated with the project of Nalanda International University to create one management school of Harvard or technological institute of MIT fame in the campus.

However, the success and uniqueness of project in depth and breadth will certainly depend on who becomes the de facto CEO, and how dedicated is he to create something that the posterity can remember and be proud of.

Mr. Dutta-Ray! Why don’t you put forward your own ideas that you shall like to get incorporated?

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