Is Amartya Sen right in accusing government of interference into academics?

Is Amartya Sen right in accusing government of interference into academics?


Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen, who has always been open about his dislike for the Modi government has once again turned to accusing the leading party. As he steps down from chancellorship at Nalanda, Sen has written a 4000 word essay to be published in August issue of New York Review of books, wherein he is known to have given his candid opinion about his ouster from Nalanda University and how the government is bent on controlling reputed institutes. According to Sen, some board members wanted him to continue at Nalanda but he stepped out fearing that the government would cut off funds if he continued his tenure. As Amartya Sen resigns from his chancellorship, he has given India something to ponder - political interference in academics will not lead to the progress of the nation, especially when efficient people are replaced by non-deserving favoured ones of the government.


1. Academic freedom must be ensured if youth has to learn development based on their merits and not politics. When positions at the most reputed institutes of the country are given to anyone the government deems fit, replacing the intellectuals, we can see that academic freedom is under grave threat. Yes, the government should exercise power and control when it is required, to stop illegal practices like admissions with bribery, fake certifications, improper facilities, careless marking system, scams in funds meant for infrastructural development, etc. What did the government do to stop what was and will continue to happen at examination centres in Bihar and rural areas? The government is simply trying to control that from which it can largely benefit.

2. Amartya Sen is not wrong when he mentions that interference in academia has never before happened at such a large scale as it is happening now under the rule of Modi government. In February this year, Sen made it official that he would be stepping down since the government does not want him to continue. He is bring replaced by George Yeo, former foreign minister of Singapore. If his accusation about the government not wanting him to continue is wrong, why hasn't the government clarified its stand all these months? It is clear that the government is bent on interfering with academics in a very wrong manner.

3. The government is keen on converting the formal roles it has in institutes into substantial roles wherein they can do all that they want without having to answer anyone. Sen talked about how at the TIFR, the government refused to ratify the director, Dr Sandip Trivedi's appointment, which really hasn't happened before under any government rule.

4. An RSS ideologue replacing the head of NBT, the renowned writer Sethumadhavan is also a clear evidence of Modi controlling academics. Sen brought forward other references like like the ICCR, where Dr Lokesh Chandra bagged his appointment because he believes PM Modi is a greater personality than Mahatma Gandhi. Sen accused the ICHR head, Yellapragada Sudarshan Rao to be someone who never did any research and wrote the misleading articles that contained how good the caste system was and how it was wrongly blamed for exploiting people.

5. The director of Delhi IIT, Raghunath Shevgaonkar had to resign and the IIT Bombay Board chairman, Anil Kakodkar stated that he could no longer help the government in anything in the future. In a TOI interview, Sen stated, "At the IIMs the government introduced a bill where instead of having indirect power of withholding the signature which they did in my case or they did in Trivedi's case, now they would directly like to appoint the director. That's the new bill. Instead of having effective power, this becomes direct control."

6. The present government believes in appointing someone with a fake degree as the education minister of the county. Is this what the nation will now teach its youth? Education sold for a few bundles of money and degrees are worth only a few sheet of papers for those favoured by the rulers. And such ministers are seen fit to decide what new ethical and religious book should be made compulsory for students. The Sanghs would be happy and that's all that Modi is about when he comes to pleasing them.


1. Amartya Sen won the Nobel prize for his contributions as an efficient economist. We do not question his excellence at holding the chancellorship at Nalanda University but what matters is his contribution to the Indian economics after winning the highly esteemed award. He got into controversies only accusing the government or the right wings. Where were his suggestive ideas that would have benefited the county far more than it did with blame game?

2. Every government has the right to bring in academicians who represent a line of thought that is agreeable to the ruling party's ideologies. The very reason they get support from other wings like RSS is because they promise them a rule in which their ideologies shall prevail. Modi government did the same. He has to keep the Sanghs happy and this is the least he could do to return the favour.

3. Amartya Sen has never spoken well of Modi or any of his party leaders. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Sen openly criticized the party and said that he was against Modi being the PM of the county for he feared that democracy and secularity would be under threat. Now that he is retiring from one of the esteemed positions at Nalanda, he took the chance to spill venom once again on Modi and his ministers.

4. He did not really criticize the HRD ministry this time, but mentioned that the pressure comes from right on top of the party, which is direct reference to the PM. Sen is just holding grudges closely and tactfully.

5. Sen had accused the government of fraudulence with the 3000 crore that was meant for the Nalanda University's development. According to him, only 46 crore was given to the university. As an economist, he failed miserably in pointing out that despite spending 46 crore the university’s infrastructure, faculty and miniscule student body received no benefit at all. No development at all in his tenure at the university is definitely his failure as a chancellor.

6. In a recent criticism to Sen's statement, an article states, "Sen, like most economists, can overstate facts. Economics is not an exact science (like physics or mathematics). Often economics states the obvious by first complicating a problem and then simplifying it to arrive at a remarkably commonsensical solution."


While some of Sen's statements are true to the core, some are manipulative and misleading. He is right when he states that academics should be free from political intervention but he is wrong when he means that these big initiatives that require budgeting from the government should not be answerable to them. The government should have the right to question the usage of money that was accorded to the university and if they find that the university is not prospering under some leaders, they have the right to intervene and to find someone more responsive and efficient at developing world class education system and infrastructural facilities for youth.
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  • RE: Is Amartya Sen right in accusing government of interference into academics? -Deepa Kaushik (07/11/15)
  • Government's interference into politics can be in varied aspects. But, interfering in the appointments in terms of giving reference and assigning people without following the procedure of interview and other procedures, would be highly incorrect. Government's duty should be to safeguard the honesty, instead of favouring the biased outlook.

    Government in case interfering in the selectiopn procedure or interfering oin the allocation of funds to the institutes just to oppose a specific person in the institute is an unacceptable act. But, we cannot completely accuse the government just by honourble Amartya Sen's outlook. it could be his perception which might be corrrect or even otherwise.

    Still, in case Government has any hands into the academic to hamper the normal procedure, they should check this primarily. Any interference from the part of Government into the academic field should be in a positive manner. Losing Amartya sen from nalanda University is definitely a great loss. If honourable Amartya sen feels his decision to be in regard to Government's outlook, our Government should take steps to clarify his doubts and try to retain him which could be a treasure for many other students who are the future pillars of our nation.