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‘Univs should be bastions of free speech’

At the first convocation of Nalanda University, he said the varsity reflects an idea, a culture which flourished for 1,200 years before it was destroyed in the 13th century. He said that over the years, India has conveyed the message of friendship, cooperation, debate and discussions through the institutions of higher learning. 

Interestingly, his comments are in complete contrast to the Narendra Modi-government’s line of thought.   

According to political experts, the President’s push for debates on the campuses may not go well with the ruling government that had slapped sedition charges on Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union’s president Kanhaiya Kumar and two other JNU students — Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya — for allegedly raising anti-India slogans at a student’s rally. 

More recently, a case of sedition was filed against actor Divya Spandana, the former Lok Sabha MP, who also goes by the name Ramya. 

Speaking at the convocation,  the President said: “Ancient Nalanda was known for high level of debate and discussion it nurtured. It was not a mere geographical expression but it reflected an idea and culture. Nalanda conveyed the message of friendship, cooperation, debate, discussion and argument. Discussion and debate are part of our ethos and life. They cannot be done away with.”

Drawing attention of governments to promote open discussions at universities, Mukherjee said: “Nalanda was a melting pot of civilizations and modern India should remain the same. We should not close our windows and yet we should not be blown off by winds from outside. We should let the winds flow freely from all over the world and get enriched by them. We should embrace free discussion and debate leaving behind narrow mindsets and thoughts.”

“It’s a mere coincidence that the President has spoken about free speech just a day after Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were been granted regular bail by a Delhi court in a sedition case. Mukherjee has said all those things which were in regular practice in universities for several years,” a political commentator said.

Speaking about the three pillars of the university, Mukherjee added: “Modern day Nalanda University has a non-metropolitan location in the heart of rural India. All three pillars of the university — the faculty, administrative staff and students — need to make a commitment to living and working in these environs. By doing so, Nalanda is setting an example for other institutions to follow.”

He further added: “Nalanda University is a symbol of Asian resurgence. At a time when the world is facing complex challenges and the destinies of the people across the continents are inter-linked, institutions of knowledge such as Nalanda are of critical importance.” 

During the convocation ceremony, Mukherjee awarded degrees to 12 students of the first batch of the university. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Chancellor of the university George Yeo and former Chancellor Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen were also present at the ceremony. 

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