Presidential Dream: Reviving Nalanda University
A man is always known by his conviction and a President is judged by his action. Yes, I am talking about President of India Pranab Mukherjee, the highest constitutional authority of India. A passionate leader, having a strong political will, he served as a competent minister at ministries of External Affairs and Finance, Government of India, and is now a vigilant, energetic President with a clear vision to restore the past glory of higher education in India. Once upon a time, India was known, at the global level, for its high standards in the field of higher education, adhering to its traditional knowledge base, rich culture, traditions, philosophy, science, history and religion. But unfortunately now, India does not rank within 100 top universities of the world. India’s top universities are now victims of political gimmickry, and campus being cultural pollution centres rather than focussing on higher studies. In past one year, if one goes by the incidents that captured the national attention, then one can clearly foresee that higher education in India is not on the right path that it should have adhered to. Even successive governments failed to draw a clear road map for making a guiding principle for a strong higher education system in India. Yes there is mushrooming growth of private universities in India, which are just running their institutions like unguided missiles and, in fact, one can say they have been converted into commercial hubs for selling education in India. One can mark the dismal figures of inflow of foreign students in modern India in comparison to pristine glory of Nalanda University centuries ago. Against this backdrop, it was persistent efforts of Pranab Da that Indian institutions for the first time secured ranks within the top 200 universities in the world in the QS World University rankings, 2015. The ancient Nalanda was an international institution where inter-Asian connections were flourished. Students from China, Japan, Tibet studied and taught in Nalanda and in later period monks from Nalanda spread their wisdom across the world. And this is what exactly Pranab Da envisioned for a modern India in the field of higher education. If we can revive one Nalanda, then many replicas can be established throughout India with a conducive atmosphere and soulful thought. India has always been famous for its richness in intellectual property in every sphere of life. History and traditions have always been celebrated in the past by our scholars. There is no dearth of scholars in India to develop our rich culture, tradition and society, and it should be the priority of any government. Pranab Da deserves kudos for initiating the idea of reviving Nalanda University during his years at the South Block as the External Affairs Minister. Nalanda University was blessed in East Asia Summit in 2007 and the Act to establish Nalanda as an international university was passed by Indian Parliament in 2010 with the support of all political parties. Now, Chancellor of Nalanda University George Yeo, former Foreign Minister of Singapore, rightly said, “It is a dedication to the ideal of man living in harmony with man, of man living in harmony with nature, and of man living as part of nature, that the people and Government of India is gifting Nalanda University to the world.”
It is now a matter of pride for India that after several centuries, Nalanda University has arisen again, just 15 km from the excavated ruins of the old Nalanda. The historic place Rajgir will again witness a modern international university. Both in the Ramayan and the Mahabharat, Rajgir was mentioned and Budha nestled on the side of the Rajgir Hill where he delivered some of his most important Sutras. After he died, the First Buddhist Council was held in Rajgir. Now Nalanda University has around 125 students including 25 foreign students. Pranab Mukherjee was a witness to the signing of an MoU between Nalanda University and Peking University during his recent visit to China. Our President said, “The lesson for modern Nalanda is to ensure that this great tradition finds new life and vigour within its precincts. Universities must be the bastions of free speech and expression. It must be the arena where diverse and conflicting schools of thought contend. There should be no room for intolerance, prejudice and hatred within the space of this institution. Further, it must act as flag-bearer for the coexistence of multiple views, thoughts and philosophies.” As a Visitor to Nalanda University, Pranab Da hoped the University will truly attain the status of Nalanda of Yore. His ideas goes on suggesting that great educational institutions require good faculty and administrators. Ancient Nalanda was able to attract and recruit outstanding teachers and workforce. What ensured Nalanda’s rise as a premier institution of the world was its cutting edge curriculum not only in Buddhist Knowledge but also in various disciplines including astronomy, medicine, general logic, linguistic, books and manuscript production, architecture and art. Let’s hope Pranab Da’s dream for a modern Nalanda University comes true.