November 14, 2005
New Delhi

PM unveils statue of Pandit Nehru at JNU campus

It is always a delight for me to return to a University campus. My professional life started among students and teachers and I have always enjoyed the environment of a University campus. It is an even greater joy for me to be here at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. I feel truly privileged to have been asked to unveil the statue of Panditji on his birth anniversary.

Your University has established itself as a premier institution of academic excellence and intellectual freedom. It has vibrant, pulsating academic life brimming with ideas and thoughts - just like it should be in an outstanding institution. The Nation is proud to have such an institution of global standing. I salute all those who dreamt of creating this University and all those who have toiled to make it a great one. It is only apt that an institution like yours was named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. His vision of the world, his vision of India, and his vision of academia are all encapsulated in the vision of this University.

Every student of this University I believe, and I am delighted to learn, is made aware of Panditji's famous reflections on what a University stands for. Speaking at the Allahabad University in 1947, Panditji had said:

"A University stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for progress, for the adventure of ideas and for the search for truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards even higher objectives. If the universities discharge their duty adequately, then it is well with the nation and the people. But if the temple of learning itself becomes a home of narrow bigotry and petty objectives, how then will the nation prosper or a people grow in stature?"

Panditji went on to add:

"A vast responsibility, therefore, rests on our universities and educational institutions and those who guide their destinies. They have to keep their lights burning and must not stray from the right path even when passion convulses the multitude and blinds many amongst those whose duty it is to set an example to others. We are not going to reach our goal through crookedness or flirting with evil in the hope that it may lead to good. The right end can never be fully achieved through wrong means."

Friends, students and teachers,

These wise words of Panditji resonate in our minds even today when we think of what the larger purpose of a University is. Indeed, you do come here to earn a degree. Indeed, you come here to master a discipline. But, do sincerely believe, you also come here to secure something more than just the understanding of a science or an art, something more than earning a passport to a job. A university provides the environment in which we evolve as responsible citizens of the world. We learn here the art and science of seeking truth. We learn here the principles of engaging in a dialogue. We learn here as much as we unlearn. For both learning and unlearning are two sides of the same coin of seeking truth, of seeking knowledge.

We also learn in a University how to deal with differences of opinion. For in expressing one's own opinion freely, we implicitly recognise the right of another to similarly express a different opinion freely. I do sincerely believe that a University is built on the foundation of liberalism. It can never thrive without the assurance of a liberal environment. Every member of a University community, if he or she wishes to aspire to be worthy of the University, must accept the truth of Voltaire's classic statement. Voltaire proclaimed: "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it." That idea must be the corner-stone of a liberal institution.


India was blessed to have had a galaxy of great leaders during its freedom struggle. Few nations in the world have seen within the span of a single lifetime leaders and intellectuals such as Mahatma Gandhi, Panditji, Subhash Chandra Bose, Sardar Patel, Rabindranath Tagore, C V Raman and scores of others who illuminated our national discourse. Together, that generation of national leaders left behind a very important value. The idea of pluralism. The idea of inclusiveness. The idea of unity in diversity.

Each of these ideas is inter-linked. Each of them is based on the principles of liberalism. These principles that must define the intellectual environment of a University.

In erecting a statue of Panditji on this campus, we should not confine him to the idol. This statue is not meant for us to pay our daily respects. For us to kneel and bow. For us to seek ritual purification by paying our respects to his memory. It is for us to stand before that statue and seek to understand the ideas that shaped that man. Ideas that in turn shaped our nation. The idea of India, as a land of diversity, of pluralism, of inclusiveness. The idea of India as an open society and an open economy in which every individual can find the space and freedom to express his or her creativity and explore their enterprise.

Our policy on education must be informed by these ideas and ideals. We must ensure that we can offer access and seek excellence in our Universities. I say this as someone who is what he is today thanks to the access that Universities gave me and the pursuit of knowledge and excellence they sought to instill in me. Education empowers us. Education creates capabilities. Education reduces disparities provided we can ensure that even as we pursue excellence, we can assure access.

The Jawaharlal Nehru University must become the symbol of such commitment to both access and excellence in education. The pursuit of excellence is not elitism. It is the means by which societies seek to grow and develop and encourage progress. On this birth anniversary of a great son of India, whose name and ideals define this institution, I thank you for this opportunity to be on your campus. I wish you all well. May your path be blessed.

Jai Hind.