RAJENDRA PRASAD, WHO TOOK CHARGE WHEN HE WAS 33 YEARS OLD, SAYS IT WASN'T ALWAYS POSSIBLE TO DO THE RIGHT THING HERE DUE TO VESTED INTERESTS
Ramjas principal completes 25 yrs, longest serving in DU
DEEPU SEBASTIAN EDMOND
NEW DELHI, FEBRUARY 24
There are certain images that remain imprinted on your memory. For the principal of Ramjas College, who took charge of the institute on July 7, 1985, one such image is that of broken window panes. Travesti
“Those days, if you took a round of the college, you would not find a single window pane intact,” recalls Rajendra Prasad, who has entered the 26th year as the principal of the college. He is the longest-serving principal at the Delhi University, a record that could hold true on the national level.
At 33, Prasad was the youngest principal of the DU when appointed. He was then a teacher of History at the Zakir Husain College. “It (the appointment) came as a surprise for me as well. One fine morning, around 5.30, professor Moonis Raza (then V-C) came to my house and said, ‘Get ready.’ I asked, ‘Sir, kya hai?’ ‘Get ready!’ he repeated. So I got ready. First he took me to his house in JNU, then we came here. And he said, ‘You’re joining. Meet the chairman of the governing body’.”
Prasad, who will then have completed 31 years in the position, will retire on February 16, 2017 — exactly a month after the college celebrates its centenary.
“Everything was bad. Women students were afraid to take admission. There were hardly 15 to 20 women students when I came. There were only 12 lady colleagues. Now we have more than 1,200 women students and the majority of teachers — about 85 — are women,” says Prasad.
A Stephenian, Prasad completed his PhD in Chinese and Japanese Studies from the DU. He is the son of Amba Prasad, a former professor of History at the university. “I was brought up here, on the campus. I have seen all the vice-chancellors. I was two years old when we shifted to 14, Vice Regal Lodge. Effectively, I have a 58-year association with the University,” he says.
Prasad started early — he was only 22 when he began his teaching career at Zakir Husain, then the Delhi College. He is shocked when reminded what his age was back then, and works out the math on a piece of paper just to be sure.
The principal talks of inheriting a flawed system — files were missing, accounts were bad and teachers had not been paid for months.
“In Ramjas College, it was not possible to do right all the time, because of vested interests. It was like a mini-India here. All the leaders of various political organisations were teaching here,” he says, refusing to blame the students for the lawlessness.
He says change came as late as in 1999. “There was tremendous change after 1999. Their last attempt to throw me out came in 1997-98,” he recounts, adding that his willingness to engage his teachers always worked in his favour. “Every year, I used to take my vision to the staff council. We used to debate it for hours. My strength lies in the fact that I have been able to carry my colleagues along.”
Prasad considers connecting all college computers using a local area network in 2001, making Ramjas the first college to have LAN, as the first in a series of changes. Wi-Fi, another first in the DU, followed in 2005. The college went on establish the School of Foreign and Indian Languages and offer various short-term add-on courses.
The Principal considers converting a part of the boys’ hostel into that for girls, in 2005, as one of the highlights of his term. “We took the first floor of the boys’ hostel and converted into a girls’ hostel. There was massive opposition. It is a highly successful experiment,” he says.
Prasad said that instead of going for decentralisation, the DU had become more centralised, “particularly in the last 7-8 years”. He adds he is not for complete, but a semi-autonomous system.
Prasad was felicitated by the alumni last Saturday at a function to kick-start the centenary celebrations of the college. On his plate for the next six years is raising Rs. 50 crore for the construction of at least two seminar halls and teachers’ rooms.