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‘I do not wish to be embroiled in India’s domestic politics’ – George Yeo explains his resignation from Nalanda

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Singapore’s former Foreign Minister, Mr George Yeo, has taken to Facebook to explain why he resigned from from Nalanda University amid top leadership changes. He explained that the the sudden dissolution of the old Nalanda Board is bound up with Indian domestic politics which he does not wish to be embroiled in.

“I am not an Indian citizen and prefer not to make further comments beyond what is contained in my statement of 25 November 2016,” he said.

And added: “Nalanda is an idea whose time has come. It is bigger than and will outlast anyone of us.”

The following is the statement by George Yeo, Chancellor of Nalanda University, dated 25 November 2016.


The Order which the Visitor approved on 21 November 2016 dissolving the Governing Board and creating a new one came as a complete surprise to me and to most members of the old Governing Board. I was neither involved in the preparation nor consulted beforehand.

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When I was appointed Chancellor in July 2015, I was told that a new Governing Board would be formed under an amended Act, core aspects of which the Ministry of External Affairs sought my views on. The amended Act would have removed a major flaw in the current Act which in essence offers Governing Board seats to East Asian Summit countries making the highest financial contributions in the last three years. This provision, which was never recommended by the Nalanda Mentor Group, would not have been a good way to constitute the Governing Board and was the reason the Government of India requested the Nalanda Mentor Group to continue functioning as the Governing Board for a number of years until the Act could be amended. For reasons not entirely clear to me, the Government of India has decided to form the new Governing Board with immediate effect before the Act is amended. This is of course entirely the prerogative of the Government of India.

Pending the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor, the incumbent Vice-Chancellor, Dr Gopa Sabharwal, whose extended term ended on 24 November, was to stay on as interim Vice-Chancellor until the new Vice-Chancellor is in place, to ensure that there is no hiatus in the leadership of the University. This is provided for in the University Statutes and fully supported by the old Governing Board. However, on 22 November, the Visitor overruled the Governing Board and directed that the senior-most Dean be appointed instead.

The circumstances under which the leadership change in Nalanda University has been suddenly and summarily effected is disturbing and possibly harmful to the University’s development. It is puzzling why I, as Chancellor, was not even given notice of it. When I was invited to take over the responsibility from Amartya Sen last year, I was repeatedly assured that the University would have autonomy. This appears not to be the case now. Accordingly, and with deep sadness, I have submitted my letter of resignation as Chancellor to the Visitor.

It has been an honour and a privilege for me to be associated with the revival of Nalanda over the last decade, to serve as a member of the Nalanda Mentors Group and the Governing Board under the leadership of Amartya Sen, and to be appointed its second Chancellor. Despite difficult circumstances, the University has made remarkable progress through the tireless effort of Dr Gopa Sabharwal and her colleagues.

The first Convocation in August this year presided over by the Visitor was a moment in history. Nalanda is an idea whose time has come and larger than anyone of us.

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