Panjab University: The heroic days

Rajesh Kochhar

(An abridged version was published in The Tribune  Chandigarh (op-ed) on 1 October 2007 ( 60th anniversary of the University) under the title “60 Years of Panjab University in pursuit of excellence”.

Panjab University Chandigarh completed sixty years of its eventful existence on 1 October 2007. Though numbers such as 60 or 50 have no intrinsic significance, they provide 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 the traumatized Indian portion of the Punjab and the Central Government  was the establishment of a University as a successor to and continuation of the University of  the Punjab at Lahore which fell into Pakistan’s lap, even though most students and teachers migrated to India. It had been 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. To protect the interests of the  large number of school and college students suddenly left without an examining body, East Panjab University, as it was then called, was “hustled into an unceremonious birth” through the promulgation of an ordinance, under a provisional syndicate, 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. Both the State and the University dropped the appellation East on 26 January 1956.)

All schools and colleges affiliated to  the Punjab University Lahore were ‘deemed to be affiliated to this University’. They however remained closed after Partition and opened only on 1 March 1948. Leadership for the infant University came from three  former members of the syndicate of the Lahore University.  Justice Teja Singh, a puisne judge of the Punjab  High Court, was formally appointed honorary Vice-Chancellor  four months after the establishment of the University, that is on 9 February 1948. He however resigned on 31 March 1949 to devote full time to his new office of  Chief Justice of PEPSU ( Patiala  and East Punjab States Union) High Court, which he had accepted  in November 1948. He however continued to be an active member of the University Syndicate. His successor, Mr G.C. Chatterjee of the Indian Education Service, and Director of  Public Instruction, East Punjab,   held office only for four months ( 1 April – 31 July 1949) as he was elevated to the membership of the Union Public Service Commission. The appointment now went to  Dewan Anand Kumar ( 1894-1981)   who remained at the helm of affairs  for eight long and crucial  years (1 August  1949- 30 June 1957).  Educated in Cambridge, Anand Kumar was appointed a reader in zoology in 1920 , and head of the department in 1942  at Lahore. In 1946 he was made the Dean of University Instruction, a post he continued to hold in the new University. In 1924 , he was appointed member of both  Dyal Singh College trust society and 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, well-connected, benevolent, imbued with a strong sense of noblesse oblige,  and related to the Nehrus through ties of  marriage (Brij Kumar Nehru was his sister’s son),   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.”  The various components of the University began 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.

The   turbulence  of the   early Panjab university is brought home by  the fact  that it was funded not only by the state government and the central education ministry but also by the central ministry for rehabilitation. The  tasks before it  were clear cut from day one: To find a place to operate from; conduct examinations; resume teaching; and look after the educational needs of the vast number of displaced persons.

Simla was a natural place for the University to start from, because  it was the temporary capital of the state The University camp office remained here till 1948 end. In the mean time the administrative offices  were shifted to Solan cantonment, where they were housed in  hill-top barracks  spread over an area of about eight kilometers. Anand Kumar operated from here till 1953 when he shifted to Delhi  because of his heart problem.

It is creditable that the University was able to bring its examination system back on the rails by 1950. But  the restoration of teaching posed serious problems. Quite obviously no existing institution could have accommodated all the teaching departments and colleges the University inherited from Lahore. Piecemeal work had to be thrust upon semi-willing and unwilling hosts.

In October 1947 itself , physics and chemistry classes were started in, and under the control of, Delhi university, because this was the only place where facility for carrying out  science  practicals existed. Information was passed on to the students and teachers  over All India Radio and through newspapers.

Chemical engineering was hosted by the Delhi Polytechnic (later Delhi College of Engineering ) from February 1948. Since Delhi now had a large number of Punjabi refugees who wanted further education, Panjab University was permitted to intrude into Delhi University’s jurisdiction and start  a Camp College, from 1 March 1948 which  could offer instruction only in the evenings because the  two  school buildings it was located in  ran their own classes during day time. The College even set up a hostel in 150 small  canvas tents pitched in the grounds. In 1950 , the College   admission was restricted to bonafide employees only, displaced or not . It thus became the precursor for later undergraduate evening colleges the university set up. It is in the Camp College 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 in 1959 by the Dyal Singh College trust .

For the rest, the  University had to fall back on its own  affiliated colleges, though expectedly the sailing was far from smooth. Zoology was shifted to Government College Hoshiarpur, while botany and pharmacy were hosted by Khalsa College Amritsar, which also accommodated Punjabi. The unusualness of the times can be gauged  from the fact that for full 11 years the University Punjabi department within the Khalsa College 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.

The remnant of Lahore’s undergraduate Hailey Commerce College was attached first to   Vaish college Rohtak, but since classes could not be started, the College was taken to Bakrota in  Dalhousie (1 September 1949.  It was realized that the “ cost of living at Dalhousie was much higher as compared with that in places in the plains”, so that “the students were finding it very difficult to cope with expenses and only the rich people could afford to send their children there”. Accordingly, 1951 end , the Commerce College was shifted to Jullundur and  housed in an evacuee property. Concern for the underprivileged was typical of the times, although it seems to have been forsaken now by the erstwhile beneficiaries.  Hindi and Sanskrit were looked after by the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College Jullundur , while law was accommodated in an evacuee property , after a brief sojourn in Simla.

It was proposed in  October 1948  that, all science departments be located in Kapurthala ,  then in PEPSU.  Chief Mnister   Gopi Chand Bhargava was however adamant that the University would not go out of East Punjab. Finally ,  early 1949  Hoshiarpur was chosen, and the building of its Government College placed at the disposal of the University, under the name University College. The dual control did have some problems but the arrangement  generally worked  well . Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was an economics student and then a research scholar at Hoshiarpur. ( Later  he served in Chandigarh also.) Two  later Vice-Chancellors,  professors Ram Chand  Paul and Ram Prakash  Bambah  were also of Hoshiarpur vintage, though the former had begun his career at Lahore itself.

As early as 1951, the  Central Government led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had decided to build a new capital for the Indian Punjab. The University was to be a part of it, even though the University authorities would have liked their campus to be “ about 10 to 15 miles from the capital”, and with a water-front.

It is interesting to note that in 1956 , when the proposal to merge PEPSU with the Punjab was being finalized, it was suggested that  the University  be housed in  the latter’s capital Patiala to “maintain the prestige of that town”. The Government  came up with an offer of 1000 acres of land , but the University was content with a smaller estate in the new city, one of the argument recorded being “Patiala still had a feudal atmosphere while Chandigarh was free from any such thing”. ( It would be instructive to obtain details of the patial offer and the detailed discussion on it.)

 University of the Punjab, Lahore

Chronologically, Panjab University may have been founded in the mid 20th century, but  culturally it is anchored in  the 19th century, because the Lahore University’s extant rules and regulations were simply re-validated  in 1947. Punjab came into the British fold a 100 years after Bengal. There was a basic difference between Calcutta and Lahore. In Bengal the British were dealing with a social class they themselves had created and enriched, while in Punjab they had to come to terms with pre-existing social elites.

A Government College was opened in Lahore on 1 January 1864 and affiliated to the far-off Calcutta University. The local leadership, supported and guided by the British Government officials,  eventually pressed for “an Anglo-Oriental institution in the Punjab”  . Four years later when fears arose that the new University might go to Delhi  rather than Lahore, the influential members of the area contributed a sum of about a lakh of rupees towards the University fund. (Contrast this with Calcutta where the Presidency College and its predecessor Hindu College were amply funded by the Government.)

Consequently, when the Punjab university Lahore was finally established on 14 October 1882, its governing body , the Senate, was “more representative than the Senate of the older universities”. The University was reconstituted in accordance with the provisions of  the 1904 Act, which among other things constituted a senate comprising  85 members, of whom  10 were  ex-officio ; 60 were nominated by the Chancellor, and the remaining 15 were elected by the University graduates. Those were the days when the colonial Government was getting increasingly worried about the growing Indian nationalism and wanted to exercise control over the Universities. For the native leadership, participation in  the Senate proceedings  was a means of articulating nationalist aspirations. With passage of time after independence,  the Senates seem to have lost much of their focus.

In retrospect, it is as well that Panjab University remained unsettled for more than a decade. If it had found passable premises, it might have remained there for ever. The University was amply compensated for its early travails by the provision of a beautiful campus in the new city of Chandigarh.

Panjab University has come a long way from its pitiable beginnings in a couple of rooms kindly loaned by the army. The university does not carry any scars from its early days, which is a good thing. But then it also does not carry any memories of the heroism of those days, which is a pity. Because such memories can serve as an inspiration.//