Nitish security hand on Nalanda revival roadmap - CM assures mentor group headed by Amartya Sen all required assistance to calm foreign fears

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 4.08.10
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New Delhi, Aug. 3: Amartya Sen, who is shepherding a plan to revive the ancient Nalanda University, today said Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had assured security for the faculty and students of the proposed international university.

Sen heads the Nalanda Mentor Group, which met in Delhi yesterday to discuss the revival roadmap. The members of the mentor group also met Prime Minster Manmohan Singh and the Bihar chief minister.

The ancient university — the pre-eminent seat of Buddhist learning from the 5th to 12th century AD — is being revived under an international initiative spearheaded by the East Asia Summit, a bloc of 10 Asean members and six other countries, including India and China.

However, there have been concerns that uncertain law and order in Bihar could make the university unattractive for overseas students. “Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has assured (he would) provide the required assistance, including security for the faculty and students,” Sen said today.

The Nobel prize-winning economist did not proffer a timeframe for the proposed university’s revival, but it is expected to start functioning by next year. The union cabinet had on July 8 decided to introduce the Nalanda University bill in Parliament’s current session.

The mentor group expects collaboration from China, which has more Buddhists than any country. Buddhist teachings will be an integral part of the university’s curriculum.

The university, however, will not have any association with the Dalai Lama. The view in the government is that it needs to respect Chinese sensibilities on the spiritual leader, else the university will be a non-starter.

However, it was the Tibetan Buddhists who kept the “Nalanda tradition” and the teachings of Buddhism’s Mahayana sect alive after the burning of the university in the 12th century by invaders.

Sen played down the omission of his fellow Nobel laureate, saying religious studies could be imparted without involvement of religious leaders. “He (the Dalai Lama) is heading a religion. Being religiously active may not be the same as (being) an appropriate person for religious studies,” Sen said. The economist added: “There is a distinction between religion and divinity school.”

The Mentor Group expects donations from government, private sector, NGOs and religious institutions. He said the proposed university would have collaborations with other old institutions like Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, Oxford and Cambridge Universities in Britain and Harvard University in the US.

Singapore’s foreign minister George Yeo, a member of the mentor group, said the university would be marketed in China after the bill is passed in Parliament. The bill will be presented in the East Asia Summit in Hanoi in October after its passage in Parliament, he said. Yeo said the project, which will cost Rs 1,005 crore, will make a contribution to the “new Asia”.

India as the host country will make a significant contribution in the initial stage, with the Planning Commission having allocated Rs 50 crore as endowment fund in the form of a special grant. The Bihar government has already acquired about 500 acres in Rajgir, in the vicinity of the original university site. Another 500 acres are to be taken over.

The international university will be an autonomous institution with the Nalanda seal — kept in a museum in Nalanda, which is also Nitish’s constituency — as its emblem. The President of India will be the visitor of the institution. Prof. Gopa Sabharwal has been selected as the vice-chancellor designate.