‘A University for the Nation’s Survival?’: A Story of the Failed Attempt to Establish a University in Nepal
Nepal’s first university, Tribhuvan University, was established in 1959, which is pretty well known fact to those who are interested in Nepal’s education system. What however is not known to the most is the earlier effort(s) to establish a university in Nepal. Surprised many would perhaps be if one were to say that the first of such effort was made during the (late) Rana era—a period known for its effort to control education rather than propagating it among the masses. The last among the Rana rulers, Mohan Shamsher, in his sindooryatra (accession to throne) speech announced (in May 1948) that a university would be established in Nepal. The announcement becomes more surprising given the restrictions (re)imposed during his reign in accessing and propagating education for the masses as well as in exercising civil liberties—however feebly available they be during his predecessor Padma Shamsher’s reign. This paper seeks to understand this apparent paradox primarily by seeking to answer the following two questions: What was the imperative for the otherwise allegedly anti-public education ruler to take a lead in establishing a university? And, why and how was the all-powerful ruler’s personal project aborted? In answering these and related questions, this paper narrates the story of the first attempt to establish a university, situating the exercise in larger national and international politics. While there were a number of internal political factors calculated by the Rana ruler such as increased oppositional political activities, I argue that rather than the national as key catalyst, readings of international political factors by the Rana ruler(s) compelled him to take the initiative of establishing the university. Of central importance here is the growing nationalization (read Hindi-ization) project/ discourse of pre and post independence India. This included the proposals for the vernacularization of Indian universities as well as the phasing out of English as the official language within “five” years. This led to cross-border fears that the resulting need to rely on Hindi or regional languages of India would threaten the existence of Nepali language and concomitantly the existence of the Nepali nation. This paper relies mostly on archival materials, particularly, three papers/journals published from Nepal: Gorkhapatra, Sharada and Nepal Shiksha published during Mohan Shamsher’s rule (i.e., 2005-2007 v.s.). Gorkhapatra is the state-owned tri-weekly and the only newspaper of the country. I looked at the microfilmed copies of Gorkhapatra of that period. The other paper that I consulted is Sharada, the leading literary journal of that period. I also studied various issues of Nepal Shiksha, the mouthpiece journal of the Department of Education. Since the Nepali university discourse drew heavily from (or rather influenced by) the language discourse in India of that period, I also looked at the debates and discussions of the Constituent Assembly of India, the report of the first university commission of India, and secondary literature related to the discourse.