Panjab University Chandigarh 1947-2007

The Tribune, Chandigarh (Op-ed page) 1 October 2007

60 years of Panjab University
In pursuit of excellence

by Rajesh Kochhar

PANJAB UNIVERSITY Chandigarh completes sixty years of its eventful existence on October 1, 2007. The occasion provides a convenient opportunity for taking stock of the past, understanding the present and planning for the future.
It is no coincidence that the University’s diamond jubilee closely follows that of India’s independence. Indeed, one of the very first acts of independent India was the establishment of a University as a successor to and in continuation of the University of the Punjab at Lahore (established 14 October 1882) which fell into Pakistan’s lap, even as most students and teachers crossed to India. By a coincidence, the diamond jubilee of Panjab University coincides to the month with the 125th anniversary of its Lahore precursor.

It was naively expected that the Lahore University would conduct the examinations for both parts of the Punjab even after partition, but that was not to be. East Panjab University, as it was then called, had to be “hustled into an unceremonious birth” through the promulgation of an ordinance, without even a Vice-Chancellor, leave aside any infrastructure. (Panjab was advisedly spelt with an initial “a” to distinguish the new University from the old. The appellation East was dropped by both the state and the University in 1956.)

The University began with a part-time Vice-Chancellor, Justice Teja Singh (February 9, 1948 – March 31 1949), whose successor Mr G.C. Chatterjee served for merely four months (April 1 – July 31 1949). The appointment now went to Dewan Anand Kumar (1894-1981) who remained at the helm of affairs for eight long and crucial years (August 1, 1949 – June 30, 1957) through four terms of two years each.

Kumar joined at Lahore in 1920 as a Reader in zoology and was appointed Dean of University Instruction in 1946, a post he continued to hold in the new University. He was also, since 1924, a member of Dyal Singh College Trust Society as well as Dyal Singh Public Library Trust, Lahore. It was left to him to administer both these after partition.
Extremely wealthy in his Lahore days through his inheritance of a 6000 acre landed estate, aristocratic, benevolent, imbued with a strong sense of noblesse oblige, well-connected, related to the Nehrus through ties of marriage (Brij Kumar Nehru was his sister’s son),and committed to high academic and ethical standards, the Cambridge – educated Kumar (affectionately and reverentially known as the Dewan Sahib in his time) is the true builder of the University as we know it today.
“Over some difference of opinion with the Chief Minister [Pratap Singh Kairon], Kumar retired from the Vice-Chancellorship in 1957.” While the administrative offices moved to Chandigarh in 1956, teaching department assembling in Chandigarh 1958 onwards. The honour of leading the University from its elegant new home thus befell Dr Amar Chand Joshi whose tenure extended from 1 July 1957 to 30 July 1965.

After a brief sojourn in a cramped Simla, the University offices shifted to hill-top military barracks spread over an area of about eight kilometers in Solan. Kumar functioned from here till 1953 when he shifted to Delhi because of a heart problem.

To meet educational aspirations of the large number of Punjabi refugees now in Delhi, East Panjab University was permitted to intrude into Delhi University’s jurisdiction and start an evening Camp College, with tents serving as a hostel. It is here that the journalism department was restarted in 1948, which borrowed the services of eminent journalists as faculty. (It shifted to Chandigarh in June 1962.) The Camp College itself was acquired by the Dyal Singh College Trust in 1959.

As early as October 1947, physics and chemistry classes were started under the auspices of Delhi University on an initiative by students like Prof. Yash Pal, while chemical engineering was accommodated in Delhi Polytechnic.
For the rest, the University had to depend on the reluctant charity of colleges and schools within its own territory. For full 11 years the University Punjabi department within Khalsa College Amritsar prepared students for the lower-level Gyani and Vidvan examinations only while the M.A. classes remained under the control of the College, as before.
Commerce classes were shifted from Bakrota in Dalhousie after two years to an evacuee property in Jullundur when it was realised that because of the high cost of living in Dalhousie, “only the rich people could afford to send their children there”. Concern for the under-privileged which was so typical of those days seems to have been forsaken by its erstwhile beneficiaries.

In October 1948 Kapurthala, then in Pepsu, offered to host all science departments, but the East Punjab Chief Minister Gopi Chand Bhargava was adamant that the University would not go out of the state. Finally, early 1949, the Government College Hoshiarpur was placed at the disposal of the University. Under the name University College, it became the dominant, but not the sole, seat of the University.

The dual control did cause some problems but the arrangement generally worked well. Prof. Ram Prakash Bambah, who later became the Vice-Chancellor, joined at Hoshiarpur as a Reader in mathematics. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was an economics student and then a research scholar at Hoshiarpur. (Later he served in Chandigarh also.)

In 1956, on the eve of merger of PEPSU with East Punjab, it was belatedly suggested that the University be housed in the former’s capital Patiala to “maintain the prestige of that town”. The University however rejected the suggestion, one of the recorded argument being that “Patiala still had a feudal atmosphere while Chandigarh was free from any such thing”.

Chronologically, a product of the mid 20th century, Panjab University is culturally anchored in the 19th century, because the Lahore University’s extant rules and regulations were simply re – validated in 1947. Unlike Bengal where the British were dealing with a social class they themselves had created and enriched, in Punjab they had to come to terms with pre-existing social elites which were duly represented in the University’s governing body, the Senate.
Increasingly worried about the growing Indian nationalism, the colonial government wanted to exercise control over the universities. For the native leadership, Senate was a forum for articulating nationalist aspirations. With passage of time after independence, the Senates seem to have generally lost much of their original focus.

The University was amply compensated for its early travails by the provision of a beautiful campus in the new city of Chandigarh. The University does not carry any scars from its early days, which is a good thing. But memories of the heroism of those days can serve as an inspiration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *