For India to fulfil its destiny, politics can’t decide future of educational institutes

File photo | The Rashtrapati Niwas, now IIAS, in Shimla | Commons

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A nation can only be as great as its institutions. That is why the latter must be preserved, protected, and promoted.

After becoming the Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, I have often pondered on the symbolic significance of the former Viceregal Lodge where the Institute is located. This historic building in Scottish ‘Jacobethan’ style, brimming with crenellated garrets and cupolas, tower and weathervane, not to mention endless dank corridors, resembles something straight out of a Harry Potter film.

It was completed in 1888 under Lord Dufferin’s tenure, after what can only be described as an engineering feat. A mountaintop was shaved and scraped off, concrete poured into the cracks of exposed shale, and a strangely magnificent building was raised on this beetling brow of the lower Himalayas. Vistas descending to the valleys and plains below give the building a commanding aspect. Already set up cantonments in Solan, Dagshai, Kasauli, and Jutogh gave the extra strategic advantage to ward off possible threats.

The Observatory Hill on which the building stands was chosen because it looks over two important watersheds of the Indian sub-continent – from these heights, on the one side, waters roll down to the Arabian Sea, while on the other, many smaller streams merge to form the Yamuna and Ganga, going all the way down to the Bay of Bengal.

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A noble cause

When I first visited the Institute in the mid-1990s, several parts of the building, already distressed and dilapidated, seem to call out for help. After I became Director, the very walls and stones looked at me as if accusingly demanding to know why they were in such a state of sad neglect. Among the several thousand visitors from abroad, especially the UK, some would wryly, if politely, comment on the neglect of an important part of our shared heritage.

Indeed, this building, which housed the imperial British government during the summer months from 1888 to 1947, was the site of several historic events and decisions that shaped the history of our subcontinent. It was here that the blood-soaked lines were drawn in the maps of the region: the Durand Line, between British India and Afghanistan, the McMahon Line between India and Tibet, and, most notoriously, the Radcliffe Line, which partitioned India.

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