Presidency University in Kolkata will be completing its 200 years of existence on 20 January this year. On the eve of bicentennial celebrations, the university has invited many dignitaries including President Shri Pranab Mukherjee, former Prime Minister Shri Manmohan Singh and many senior politicians. However, the University has not invited the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi for the event. This was confirmed to the media by one of the members of the organizing committee. “The University administration has decided not to invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi keeping in mind the secular fabric of the institution’s history,” one of the celebrations committee member told media.
The decision of not inviting Prime Minister Modi, taken by Presidency University keeping in mind the secular fabric of institution’s history, is not only a shameful act but also an insult to its own legacy. Universities are considered to be the temple of ideas where thoughts from all spectrum of ideology must be respected and encouraged. It is not hidden from anyone that the academics in most of the universities is dominated by people belonging to the left. An ideological disagreement in a democratic country is welcome and strengthens the ethos of democracy. However, implicating the Prime Minister of the country who has been democratically elected with a massive mandate of being a threat to the secular fabric of the university is ridiculous to say the least.
Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who was also an alumni of the university, played an extremely important role in the growth of the university in the 1940s. He supported Meghnad Saha in latter’s efforts to establish institute of nuclear physics and world class research facilities in the university. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who was a Hindu nationalist, worked hard with physicist Saha and ensured that the university accepted the grant from Tata Trust in 1941 which led to the establishment of cyclotron and India’s venture into the field of nuclear Physics. Presidency University was at the forefront of this program. Shri Narendra Modi represents the same ideals as that of Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who was not only an alumni of the university but was also instrumental in making the university a world class place for research. With sidelining of Narendra Modi, the university has mocked itself and its glorious legacy.
One of the other reasons for not inviting PM Modi can be political (and not just ideological). Presidency University is a state university controlled by the West Bengal government. With bitterness between WB Govt and Government of India and the centre-state relationship at an all time low, the university might have been under pressure from Mamata didi to not invite Narendra Modi. If true, it raises serious questions over the academic independence of the universities. Such a scenario will imply that universities have just become a political tool in the hands of ruling parties. This is a frightening situation as it compromises with academic independence and quality of education being imparted in the universities. In either case, such a decision from one of the most famous universities of India is shameful and disappointing to say the least.
The Presidency University (erstwhile Hindu College and then Presidency College) was started in 1817 with Raja Ram Mohan Roy as one of its founders. It became the Presidency College in 1855 and in 2010 it was granted the full university status. The university which was founded by Ram Mohan Roy and boasts of alumni who were brave nationalists like Vivekanand, Bose, Ram Mohan Roy and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the decision either under ideological pressure or political pressure, is an insult to the itself and its legacy.