FOR decades, and under different governments, India has been concerned that it lacks comprehensive multidisciplinary world standard universities. Manmohan Singh’s government with Sam Pitroda as the Chair of the Knowledge Commission had proposed to establish 14 such universities on March 28 2008.
The PIB release on that date with the heading ‘States identified for locating new Central institutions of higher education in the 11thFive-Year Plan’ had a paragraph heading “Statewise List of Cities Identified for locating 14 Central Universities during the XIth Plan which would aim to achieve world class standards” and listed 14 locations with the preamble: “As regards 14 Central Universities aiming at world class standards”.
The high budgetary requirement and, perhaps, lack of expertise in establishing such universities led to dilution of that plan and the UPA Government never established any of those 14 universities.
NDA government in its second term mentions establishment of similar universities in its NEP 2020 plan. In particular, Page 38 of the NEP 2020 says, “11.11. Model public universities for holistic and multidisciplinary education, at par with IITs, IIMs, etc., called MERUs (Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities) will be set up and will aim to attain the highest global standards in quality education. They will also help set the highest standards for multidisciplinary education across India.”
However, no visible steps have been taken in that direction so far. Perhaps the reason is similar. Since more than Rs. 2000 crore has been spent on each of the second-generation IITs that were announced in 2008, creating a MERU in the mold of comprehensive universities with diverse disciplines and at the level of IITs and IIMs could cost at least Rs. 10,000 crore each in its initial stage itself.
Due to the recent pandemic and various other large-budget infrastructure projects being undertaken, India currently has financial constraints and may not be able to afford multiple such MERUs from the Central Budget in the coming years.
However, the fundraising success at Ayodhya gives us the way to establish MERUs without directly burdening the Central Budget, and at the same time helping us revive some of India’s ancient and middle-age centers of knowledge.
Among the celebrated India’s ancient and middle-age centers of knowledge are the Chaturāmnāya Pīthams established by Adi Shankara, at Puri, Dwaraka, Sringeri and Badrinath that have world-wide following and significant holdings. They are also located in the four corners of India. In the ancient days, the focus of Puri Govardhan maṭha Pīṭhaṃ was Rig Veda, the focus of Sringeri Śārada Pīṭhaṃ was Yajur Veda, the focus of Dvāraka Sharada Pīṭhaṃ was Sama Veda, and the focus of Badri Jyotirmaṭha Pīṭhaṃ was Atharva Veda.
Each of them had multiple mathas (research centers) where philosophers and teachers would visit, stay and discuss, teach, and propagate knowledge.
Centres of knowledge
Thus we propose the establishment of MERUs, as envisioned in the NEP 2020, at or near three of the four the Chaturāmnāya Pīthams established by Adi Shankara, at Puri, Dwaraka, Sringeri and Badrinath; perhaps starting with Puri. There are a several other ancient centers of knowledge such as Kashi, Nalanda, Avanti (Ujjain), and Puspagiri, but we do not focus on them here as they are either not associated with temples or they already have associated modern Centrally-funded universities (such as at Kashi, and Nalanda).
We also leave out Badrinath for now because of its lack of accessibility; the nearest airport to it at Dehradun and the nearest train station at Haridwar, are both 300+ km away.
Additional MERUs can be subsequently established using a similar approach at related locations such as Kancheepuram – considered by some as a branch of Sringeri mutt, Ramewswaram – one of the char dhams along with Puri, Dwaraka and Badrinath, etc.
Little cost to Govt
Establishing MERUs that may cost Rs. 10,000 crore each at Puri, Dwaraka, and Sringeri with little cost to the Central Government is feasible because: w India has a long tradition of philanthropy towards temples and projects associated with temples, and w Ayodhya has shown us the way: On January 15, 2021, a fundraising campaign for the Ram Mandir construction at Ayodhya was initiated with the first contribution made by the President of India. By April 2021, in less than three months, nearly four times of the estimated cost of Rs 1,500 crore was collected with tremendous pressure from devotees to continue the fundraising campaign.
In this regard, we note that India’s first prototype MERU was established in holy city of Varanasi by the efforts of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, who undeterred by the non-cooperation of the British Government, raised funds from the people to establish Banaras Hindu University (founded in 1916), whose tech school is indeed an IIT.
Thus, we pray to the Hon’ble Prime Minister and Education Minister to follow the footsteps of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and the roadmap shown by Ayodhya and initiate establishment of MERUs at Puri, Dwaraka, and Sringeri.