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PM skirts CM plea on varsity

Give PU central tag, Nitish appeals with 'folded hands'; look ahead, says Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Nitish Kumar have a laugh at the Patna University centenary year celebrations on Saturday. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh

Patna, Oct. 14: Chief minister Nitish Kumar today pleaded with the Prime Minister "with folded hands" to make Patna University a central varsity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi replied that the goal was old and he wanted to take the university beyond a central varsity.

The appeal and the response have thrown up a political riddle: has the Prime Minister snubbed his foe-turned-friend Nitish? The Opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal believes so.

" Mein haath jor ke pradhan mantriji se agrah karta hoon ki is aitihasik mauke par Patna University ko kendriya vishwawidyalay ka darja dein (I request the honourable Prime Minister with folded hands to declare Patna University a central university on this historic occasion)," Nitish, who didn't actually fold his hands, said in his address at the varsity's centenary function on the Patna Science College premises.

But the Prime Minister side-stepped the request. " Ye sab baat puraani ho gayee hain. Hum Patna University ko central university se aur aage le jaana chahte hain (This is an old thing. I want to take Patna University beyond a central university)."

He invited PU to bid for the central government's new scheme of making world-class universities. "Ten private and 10 state universities will be selected. Rs 10,000 crore will be pumped into them in the next five years," Modi said, declaring that he had come to invite PU to compete in the bid. But there was a clause. An independent body would select the 20 universities. No recommendation from the Prime Minister or chief minister would work, Modi said.

Reaction from Opposition parties, especially Nitish's erstwhile Grand Alliance partners, was instantaneous. "The Prime Minister has made a fool of chief minister Nitish Kumar," said Shivanand Tiwari, national vice-president of the RJD. "The demand for making PU a central varsity is an old one. It would have been a very small gesture for the PM to agree to it." He said Prime Minister Modi was extracting his revenge from Nitish for the shabby treatment meted out to him in the past.

Even former education minister Ashok Choudhary, a PU alumnus, expressed disappointment. "Declaring PU a central university would not have disqualified it from competing for world-class university status," Choudhary said.

The Prime Minister had earlier spoken about world-class universities in a speech at IIT-Gandhinagar. But academicians have asked why public money should be given to private universities.

The RJD has also taken strong exception to the PM's announcement that all government rules would be relaxed for these 20 universities. The party said this was a ploy to do away with reservations.

The demand for central university status to Patna University was first made when Arjun Singh was the Union human resource development minister in the PV Narasimha Rao government . Several leaders and forums had raised the issue but no concrete plan was chalked out. Many central ministers represented Bihar during the UPA-I and NDA governments at the Centre but they never joined hands to raise the issue.

During UPA-I, when Arjun Singh was the Union HRD minister, Allahabad University, Patna University, Goa University, Guru Ghasidas University in Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh) and HP Singh University in Sagar (Madhya Pradesh) had sent proposals seeking central university status. But except for Patna University, all the other universities received the status.

Though the Prime Minister talked about selecting 20 best universities (public and private) based on competition, Patna University doesn't even figure in the National Institutional Ranking Framework and has not applied for it. Only one university from the state - Central University of South Bihar - figured in the ranking carried out in 2016 and 2017. It was ranked 94 in 2016.

"The PM's speech was a great disappointment. He has done injustice to Patna University and Bihar," former Patna College principal and economist N.K. Choudhary said. "The PM's statement was an indication that the government was moving towards commercialisation and privatisation of higher education."

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