Nitish Kumar offered Prime Minister Narendra Modi the opportunity to turn the once-prestigious Patna University into a campus entitled to funding from the centre. The Prime Minister passed. An audience of nearly 5,000 witnessed the exchange. And unsubtly, the Bihar Chief Minister was put in his place - again - by his new boss.
Nitish Kumar had to make do instead with the PM declaring that 10,000 crores will be used over the next five years to improve 20 universities deemed worthy of upgrade by an impartial evaluating agency. The Chief Minister's researchers had obviously not shared with him a speech given by the PM in Gandhinagar on October 7 when he made the same promise.
Patna University, once called the "Oxford of the East", will not qualify unless there's a quota for the worst universities who were renowned in the past It has neither the faculty nor the facilities to compete with others seeking money from the centre.
Nitish Kumar had clearly been misguided in his request to the PM by an unhealthy reliance on the past - when the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in power and he Railways Minister, he got his alma mater, the Bihar College of Engineering, converted into a National Institute of Technology, which endowed it with all-new frills like new hostels, brought to life by a 100-crore fund. The college is succeeding in drawing students from across the country and on-campus recruitment sees big-bucks offers for students from leading companies.
If Nitish Kumar was spurned on one front, he was obliged on another - the PM agreed to his request for an unscheduled stop at the new Bihar Museum. But there were an assortment of other drawbacks that dented the morning - the Chief Minister was briefly stopped by the PM's security detail from driving onto the tarmac to receive him. The confusion was quickly resolved, but left Nitish Kumar annoyed, said his aides.
The nipping in the bud of his public petition for Patna University, which marked it centenary over the weekend, must force the focus on the state's education crisis. Photographs of parents clambering over walls to pass cheat-sheets to their children made international front pages in 2015. Ruby Rai, state topper, was arrested last year After she topped the Class 12 exam but was unable to answer elementary questions about the subjects she had excelled in; Nitish Kumar has ordered officials to introduce new measures to combat cheating in schools.
Before Nitish Kumar was elected Chief Minister for the first time in 2005, Lalu Yadav over 15 years drove education into disaster- his administration hired teachers for higher educations based either on caste or on kickbacks. When Nitish Kumar took over, he hired hired teachers for primary schools through panchayats which lowered standards further. And since then, he has taken few major or innovative steps to improve either the caliber of teachers or infrastructure or colleges and schools. Nearly 90% of the Education Department's department is consumed by salaries; there's virtually nothing left to improve schools and colleges.
Although Nitish Kumar took several steps to lower the dropout rate - his famous incentives to girls include free cycles -
His efforts to improve the Nalanda International University and two central universities in Motihari and Nalanda have so far demonstrated no transformative changes.
Given all this, the PM's lesson was clear - Bihar must clean up its own education system and stop looking to the centre for handouts. For Nitish Kumar, who has only recently signed up as an ally of the PM's, it's a tough message and a pointed one - nothing special about you. (Manish Kumar is Executive Editor at NDTV)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.