Education ecstasy and agony

Nalanda, Feb. 12: Happiness tinged with dejection summed up the mood of Nitish Kumar as he greeted Salman Khurshid on the foreign minister's maiden visit to the site of the Nalanda University, the global institution in the making on the ruins of the ancient seat of learning.

"My happiness knows no bounds today. I am ecstatic to see the foreign minister here as Nalanda University is primarily a project of the ministry of external affairs. Salman saheb's arrival is a sign of the MEA's active interest in the project that is now set to be on the fast track of progress," the chief minister said.

Nitish was sharing his feelings with The Telegraph about what has been his "dream project" while waiting for Khurshid to conclude his meeting with the consultative committee members at an adjacent room at the Rajgir International Conclave Centre.

As Khurshid learnt about Nitish's arrival, he dashed to the chief minister's room and escorted him to the meeting. "I am grateful to you (Nitish)," the foreign minister said. "I will take utmost care of the baby (Nalanda University) that you have given in my lap."

The minister, like Planning Commission boss Montek Singh Ahluwalia a few days ago, went around the site of the ancient university and called for its inclusion in the Unesco list of World Heritage Sites. "I am excited to be here. The new university will also emerge as a centre of cultural diplomacy besides being an excellent seat of learning in South Asia," Khurshid said.

If seeing the upcoming university take baby steps to fruition is a matter of satisfaction for Nitish, the state of higher education in Bihar has left him unhappy. Before his meeting with Khurshid, the chief minister rued to The Telegraph how his efforts to improve the quality of higher education had been repeatedly derailed.

The chief minister had yesterday lamented that the process of consultation with the government was discarded by Raj Bhavan ' the governor is the chancellor of universities ' when deciding on the vice-chancellors in spite of the high court order quashing their appointments on this very ground in December 2012.

"You know, I did not actually intend to speak on him (Governor Devanand Konwar) at yesterday's news conference. But someone asked me about the consultation issue with regard to the appointment of VCs. I paused for a while. Then I thought that if I keep mum, some people might construe that the appointments of the VCs had been made with my consent. Thus, I spoke to ensure that I am not blamed for the poor state of affairs in higher education."

The governor has also kept five key bills related to higher education pending with him for the last two to three years. Asked if he had shared with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh his "troubles" with the governor, Nitish said: "Never… I have never discussed him (Konwar) either with the Prime Minister or the Union home minister…faida kya hai (what is the benefit)."

An aide accompanying Nitish pointed out that the irony was that the chief minister's dream projects ' be it Nalanda University, CNLU, CUB, IIT or NIT, which are all supported by the Centre ' are doing well. "But the state's higher education institutions continue to be in a shambles," he said.

Nitish turned nostalgic as he recalled the inception of the convention centre at Rajgir. "I had started it with my MLC fund. I roped in other MLCs and also used government fund. I supervised the planting of flower saplings and other plants."

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