In a series of tweets on the weekend, Bharti Jain, a journalist with The Times of India, made serious allegations of financial misconduct and nepotism against Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and the management of Bihar’s Nalanda University.
Her tweets claimed that after Modi’s arrival in 2014, the purported “fraud was stopped and Amartya Sen was thrown out of Nalanda University”. Jain said that this was the reason Sen has been critical of Prime Minister Modi’s economic policies.
After a social media uproar about the lack of evidence to support her allegations, Jain clarified that her tweets were based on information “sources” and not authored independently.
On being pressed about the sources, Jain responded that these were government sources.
A short while later, Jain deleted her tweets.
As it turns out, the allegations highlighted by Jain, ascribed to government sources, had been circulating on WhatsApp. They were given little credence until a journalist of a national newspaper decided to tweet the information, identical to the WhatsApp messages.
Jain is editor, internal security at Times of India. As per her Twitter bio, she reports on Home Ministry, security affairs, personnel ministry, Election Commission and the Parliament.
In this report, Alt News attempts to fact-check the barrage of allegations tweeted by Jain against Professor Sen and the Nalanda University. Apart from its own research, Alt News also contacted Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.
“The Economist Amartya Sen was appointed as chairman of Nalanda Mentor Group in 2007 & made first Chancellor of famous Nalanda University (NU) in Bihar by Congress govt in 2012. He enjoyed a salary of *Rs 5 Lakh* per month, tax-free benefits, unaccounted foreign travels, meeting in luxury hotels, power to direct appointments, etc.”
The issue of Sen’s emoluments was first raised by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Subramanian Swamy in 2015 when he claimed that the economist drew an annual salary of Rs 50 lakh from Nalanda University. Several media outlets had published details of the university statement in 2015.
The statement said the claim was false and stated that Sen had received no salary whatsoever from Nalanda University. All his work for the university was done in an honorary capacity. It also stated that Sen did not receive any perquisites from the university.
Nalanda University further clarified that the free travel pass was a gift to Sen from the government of India. Former Prime Minister Vajpayee had presented the pass to celebrate his Nobel Prize.
In an email response to Alt News, Dr Sen described journalist Bharti Jain’s allegations as “amazingly false”. He elaborated: “First of all, I received from Nalanda no salary whatsoever, and worked for zero remuneration. Second, I had ‘no tax-free benefits’ and there were no ‘unaccounted’ foreign travels. Third, I was placed in hotels where the Board meetings were held and where other members of the Board (including representatives of the Ministry of External Affairs – when meeting outside Delhi) typically stayed.”
“Nine years during Manmohan Singh’s tenure, Amartya Sen ran Nalanda University while mostly staying abroad. He appointed seven faculties. Made Nalanda University a 5-star hotel.”
A Chancellor does not run a university. Unlike a Vice-Chancellor, a Chancellor is an honorary non-resident position. For instance, Venkaiah Naidu is the Chancellor of Delhi University. Section 14 of the Nalanda University Act (2010) passed by the Indian Parliament lays out the responsibilities of a Chancellor.
Section 15 states that it is the Vice-Chancellor who is the principal academic and executive officer and exercises control over the affairs of the Nalanda University and gives effect to the decisions of all authorities of the University.
Sen told Alt News: “Regarding my presence at Nalanda, I attended all meetings of the Board and regularly visited the campus and the offices of Nalanda University in Rajgir and New Delhi, and had frequent meetings with the faculty and the students at Nalanda University. In common with Chancellors of other universities, the Nalanda Chancellor is not required to live in the campus (in fact, there is no allocated residence for the Chancellor in the Nalanda campus).”
Regarding the appointments made by him, he stated, “It was part of my duty to help in the choice and recruitment of distinguished faculty members, and I tried to discharge my responsibilities as well as I could.”
Sen said he was completely baffled by the accusation that he had turned Nalanda University into a five-star hotel. “I cannot guess what Ms Bharti Jain could possibly mean by making ‘Nalanda University a 5-star hotel’,” he wrote. “We had no hotel facilities in Nalanda University – the Board members, when visiting, were placed in nearby hotels.”
“Total expenditure was staggering *Rs 2729 crores*”
While making this claim, Jain seemed to have confused the total budget set aside by the government to establish and run Nalanda University with the actual expenditure made during Sen’s tenure.
A question about Nalanda University’s budget and expenditure was raised in Lok Sabha in April 2015. Minister of State for External Affairs Gen. VK Singh’s response was: “An amount of Rs 2,727.10 crore has been approved by the Government for the establishment of Nalanda University, of which Rs. 47.28 crore has been released till date.”
Sen’s response to Alt News was also on similar lines. “The planning, preparation and initiation of the new campus of Nalanda, being built on more than 500 acres of vacant land, started when I was Chancellor,” he said. “Ms Jain has to distinguish between current expenditure and long-term investment.”
“Four female faculties, Dr Gopa Sabharwal, Dr Anjana Sharma, Nayanjot Lahiri and Upinder Singh from Delhi University were made faculties. *Upinder Singh is the eldest daughter of Manmohan Singh*, while the remaining three were Upinder’s close friends.”
Alt News found that Sabharwal was Vice-Chancellor of Nalanda University and Sharma was the Dean of Academic Planning. However, no reference could be found in the annual reports of the University regarding Lahiri and Singh.
Alt News contacted Professor Nayanjyot Lahiri who categorically denied any association with the University. “Actually, during the time that Professor Sen was the Chancellor, I served at the University of Delhi as Professor of History and for, a few years, as Dean of Colleges,” she said in an e-mail. “At no point did I happen to be part of the faculty at Nalanda and nor have I earned even a rupee from that University in any capacity whatsoever. After leaving the University of Delhi, I joined Ashoka University in 2016.”
Alt News also contacted Professor Upinder Singh, daughter of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. She confirmed that she was never a faculty member at Nalanda University, nor did she receive any remuneration from the University.
In his email to Alt News, Sen reiterated this point. “Neither Upinder Singh (Manmohan Singh’s eldest daughter), nor her friend Nayanjyot Lahiri, was a member of the Nalanda faculty at any time (though given their distinction, they could easily have been appointed at Nalanda, as they had been at Delhi University – they did not seek appointment in Nalanda),” he wrote.
“Two more faculties were appointed, honorary, Daman Singh & Amrit Singh. *Middle & youngest daughters of Manmohan Singh. They stayed in USA while drawing salary!”
While the rest of the tweet thread is now deleted by Jain, this tweet can still be seen on her timeline.
In this tweet, she makes a serious allegation of fraud and the complicity of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, alleging that his daughters were drawing a salary from the university as faculty members while living in the US.
Jain was called out by several people, including senior journalist at The Hindu Suhasini Haider who said that she had checked the allegation and found that neither of Singh’s daughters had ever been ever faculty members at the university. Besides, only one of them lived in the US.
Alt News contacted Daman Singh, daughter of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “I can confirm that neither I nor my sister Amrit has any connection to Nalanda University,” she said.
Professor Sen stated: “This is also totally untrue. The two mentioned were never appointed faculty members of Nalanda University (they did not seek such appointment either). The question of their drawing a salary while staying in the USA does not arise (‘drawing salary’ for ‘honorary’ appointments raises further questions of truth and falsehood).”
“After 2014, when Modi arrived, all these fraud were stopped and Amartya Sen was thrown out of Nalanda University. Since that day Amartya Sen began his trenchant criticism of Modi’s economic agenda. However, at the world level, he failed to impress any other economist against Modi.”
The tenure of a Chancellor at the Nalanda University is governed by the Nalanda University Act (2010). According to Section 5(f) of the Act, a Chancellor is appointed for a tree-year term.
In response to a question regarding the factors that contributed to the exit of Amartya Sen from the Nalanda University, Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen VK Singh’s response was as follows: “Prof Amartya Sen was appointed as the First Chancellor of Nalanda University w.e.f. 18th July, 2012 for a period of three years. As his tenure of three years was nearing completion, Prof. Sen had publically declared that he wanted to exclude himself from being considered for continuing as Chancellor of Nalanda University beyond July 2015.”
Sen said that he did not seek to continue as Chancellor even though the Governing Body had re-elected him. “I was deterred not only by the Modi-government’s hostility to me but also by observing how terribly badly the Modi-government was treating this ancient (Buddhist-origin) university,” he said.
Responding to Jain’s claim that he began his criticism of Modi’s economic agenda after his exit from Nalanda, Sen said, “I must also point out that I have been criticising the gigantic blunders in Modi’s economic thinking from much earlier than my departure from Nalanda (indeed from much earlier than becoming Chancellor of Nalanda).”
Alt News found several examples of Sen criticising Narendra Modi even before his term as prime minister.
It’s clear that the viral WhatsApp forward quoted by Bharti Jain was completely baseless. In his email to Alt News, Professor Sen remarked, “Finally, I must say that I am quite impressed to see Ms Jain’s ability to pack in so many big and gross mistakes in so few words.”
While Jain’s tweet thread now stands deleted, the text has been picked up by the fake news ecosystem. Right-wing propaganda website OpIndia published an article on the “unholy nexus’ between Sen and Manmohan Singh, quoting Jain’s tweet about the former prime minister’s daughters in the US. The website made no effort to fact-check the claim before making a serious allegation of fraud against Singh or Sen.
The tweet thread has also been copy-pasted by several BJP supporters on Facebook to explain “the reason why Sen is a vocal critic of Modi.”
The misinformation continues to circulate on WhatsApp. The fake news, which earlier consisted of nameless allegations, now credits Bharti Jain of Times of India as the source.
This article first appeared on AltNews.in