No one intruded into anyone’s territory at Nalanda on Friday. It was all a mistake.
Former President Ram Nath Kovind was holding forth on the glories of Indian democracy at Nalanda University when a powerful voice suddenly cut him short.
It belonged not to a heckler. It belonged to Narendra Modi, who was not even present.
Those who believe that the Prime Minister has eyes and ears everywhere would have been forgiven if they were momentarily tempted to add vocal cords to the list.
Had Kovind said something about democracy that had annoyed the man who had just appointed him head of a committee to weigh his pet idea of “one nation, one election”?
The august gathering that included Bihar governor Rajendra Arlekar, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, Union minister of state for culture Meenakshi Lekhi and ambassadors from several countries may have been pondering just this when the mystery was quickly resolved.
Someone among the event’s organisers had goofed up, playing at an inopportune moment a recorded audio message for the gathering from the Prime Minister.
Narendra Modi. File picture
Just as abruptly as Modi’s voice had muscled into Kovind’s speech was it itself cut off mid-speech. Some intrepid soul had switched the recording off.
It was left to Kovind to bring the stunned audience back to life. “This is also a part of democracy,” he joked, without spelling out whether he meant the original interruption or its unceremonious extinguishment.
The occasion was the inauguration of a two-day “Vaishali Festival of Democracy”, organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) on the International Day of Democracy.
Phone calls to Nalanda University and ICCR officials went unanswered.
After things had settled down, Kovind resumed his speech, borrowing one of Modi’s catchphrases to assert that “India is the mother of democracy”.
“Our democratic traditions go back thousands of years. Vaishali (now a district in Bihar) was the oldest republic. Democracy flourished in several parts of the country and there were many republics in ancient India. The Rig Veda mentions the word ‘ganatantra’ 40 times, while the Atharva Veda mentions it six times,” the former President said.
Kovind, who had been Bihar governor for a while, referred to Nalanda as “the land of knowledge”, alluding to the ancient Nalanda University’s status as an institution of international fame from around the 5th century AD to the 12th century.
However, chief minister Nitish Kumar, the man behind the revival of Nalanda University as a global institution, was not invited to the event.
Today’s Nalanda University was established in 2010, as a centrally funded autonomous institution, under UPA rule with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen as its first chancellor. Economist Arvind Panagariya is the present chancellor.