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Tribune Special
Central universities: Politicians help themselves
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi wants one named after him and at his birthplace.
Badal chooses Bathinda, the constituency his son is actively nursing.
HP got the nod for Kangra, a BJP bastion. They hope Shanta Kumar can win the seat he lost last time.

New Delhi, September 23
The proposed central universities are not just about improving higher education in India. In many cases, they seem to have more to do with politics than anything else, with chief ministers and political groupings pushing for vested interests in the name of education. The human resource development (HRD) ministry is at the receiving end, in some cases at least.

The latest such case involves the demand from Tamil Nadu to name the central university in the state after DMK patriarch and state chief minister M. Karunanidhi. Interestingly, the said university was first proposed at Trichy, which had locational and infrastructural advantage over other sites. It was however moved to Thiruvarur, a remote place which HRD officials say is not "very suitable" (it is about 300 km from Chennai). Its only advantage -- it is very close to Karunanidhi’s birth place, Thirukuvalai..

If that wasn’t enough, Tamil Nadu education minister has now written to HRD ministry to name the said university as Dr Kalaignar (meaning “artist”) M Karunanidhi University after the chief minister, who is a a strong UPA ally. There, however, is a problem with this demand, ministry sources say. "We have no precedence of naming government-funded universities after people who are alive. There are only three existing universities named after legends once they passed on. These are: Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala; JNU and Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad."

But this logic doesn’t seem enough to turn down the state’s demand in this election season. The ministry has reportedly said it will take up the matter in consultation with the state. And this, despite existing limitations.

Another such situation has arisen in the case of Uttarakhand, where politics is inspiring the demand to upgrade the existing Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal state university to a central one. H.N. Bahuguna was a Congress stalwart from the region; his son Vijay Bahuguna is now a Congress MP from Tehri Garhwal. Interestingly, the ministry is said to have received a note in this connection from 10 Janpath.

  Conceding to this demand will not be easy, considering HRD ministry’s repeated arguments against converting state universities into central universities. "In such cases, we inherit financial liability. New work ethos can’t be evolved, inertia levels remain the same. We would, any day, prefer new set-ups. Moreover, past experiences of upgrading state universities have proved disastrous, like Allahabad University," sources say.

But demands continue, with the ministry now considering central status for two more universities — this time located in the stronghold of HRD minister Arjun Singh. These include Guru Ghasi Das University, Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh and Hari Singh Gour University, Sagar in Madhya Pradesh.

Even state governments are using the occasion to score political points.

  • Punjab has managed a consensus (to locate the central university) in favour of Bathinda, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal’s stronghold. Post-delimitation, this formerly reserve constituency fell open; it is now being nursed by Sukhbir Singh Badal, SAD president and son of chief minister Parkash Singh. Sukhbir’s old constituency Faridkot became a reserve constituency after delimitation recently.
  • In Himachal Pradesh too, the ruling BJP got HRD ministry’s nod to locate the university at Kangra, a BJP bastion, from where Rajya Sabha member Shanta Kumar won many elections but the last one. The seat is at present with the Congress. May be, the thinking goes, a central university might well win it back for the BJP.
  • Ranchi beat Dhanbad in the race for the varsity, thanks to the clout of Ranchi Congress MP Subodh Kant Sahay. Political groups in Dhanbad even wrote to the Prime Minister but could not quite manage it for themselves.



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