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Amartya Sen And Fake News: A Love Story

Amartya Sen And Fake News: A Love Story

A two month old fake story about a scandal at Nalanda University involving Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has been revived again.

TOI Editor Tweets Misleading WhatsApp Message Targeting Amartya Sen, Cites ‘Govt Sources’

A false narrative about Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, and his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal worth Rs. 2730 crore at the Nalanda University, has been revived again and made viral on WhatsApp.

A similar misleading story had gone viral in the month of April, after being tweeted out by a senior Times of India Editor – Bharti Jain, which was later debunked by BOOM.

This comes a week after the 85-year old economist made a statement about the politicization of religion in Bengal, and the term “Jai Shri Ram” becoming a major political issue in the state.

Resurrecting A Debunked Story

On July 9, 2019, BOOM got an elaborate message on its WhatsApp helpline number, that provided a detailed account of an alleged scandal at the Nalanda University worth Rs. 2730 crore, involving Amartya Sen and three daughters of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – Dr. Upinder Singh, Daman Singh, and Amrit Singh.

Image shows Screenshot of WhatsApp message received on helpline.
Screenshot of WhatsApp message.

BOOM also received the following photo, which contained the same misleading story in Bengali, titled “Amartya Sen is also a scam”.

Image shows fake story on Amartya Sen in Bengali.

After searching on Facebook with the caption, we found that it has been revived on the social media platform as well.

All the messages carried a link to a Twitter post by TOI Senior Editor Bharti Jain, which has now been deleted.

Recap

The viral message had stark similarities with another message BOOM received on April 28, 2019, which detailed a conspiracy regarding misuse of funds allocated for the Nalanda University by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.

Image shows screenshot WhatsApp forward
Screenshot of the WhatsApp forward received on April 28, 2019.

Soon after, this message was made viral after being tweeted out word-to-word by Bharti Jain, a senior internal security editor at Times of India, who attributed the information to “government sources”.

Image shows tweets by Bharti Jain

To view archived version of the tweets, click here.

Interestingly, the revived messages had provided a link to Jain’s tweets as a source for the information, despite Jain having deleted them and putting out a clarification that the contents of the deleted tweets were incorrect.

Our Detailed Fact Check

When the contents of Jain’s tweets became viral over two months ago, BOOM did fact check on all the claims made, and found them to be blatantly false or misleading.

The following claims were made in the message:

1. Economist Amartya Sen received a salary of Rs. 5 lakh per month during his tenure as Chancellor of Nalanda University, during which he was running the institution from abroad. He also received tax-free benefits, unaccounted foreign travels, meeting in luxury hotels, power to direct appointments. etc.

2. Total expenditure was Rs. 2729 crore.

3. Dr Gopa Sabharwal, Dr Anjana Sharma, Nayanjot Lahiri and Upinder Singh – daughter of Manmohan Singh – from Delhi University were made faculties.

4. Daman Singh and Amrit Singh, also daughters of Manmohan Singh, were appointed honorary faculties. They stayed in the US while drawing salary from the institution.

5. After 2014, when Modi arrived, all these fraud were stopped and Amartya Sen was thrown out of Nalanda University.

The following excerpt has been taken from our older article on this issue, which provides a detailed fact check on each of the claims.


1. Amartya Sen receiving a salary of Rs. 5 lakh,tax-free benefits, unaccounted foreign travels, meeting in luxury hotels, power to direct appointments.

Amartya Sen’s salary as the Chancellor of Nalanda University has been under controversy since 2015, when Subramanian Swamy had taken this up with the university.

According to a report by The Hindu, the university retorted back by saying that Swami’s allegations were ‘false’ and that Sen received no remuneration during his tenure as Chancellor as his work was done in honorary capacity.

Nalanda University also claimed that Sen did in fact receive a free Air India pass from former Prime Minsiter Atal Behari Vajpayee to celebrate his Nobel Prize, which had nothing to do with the university.

Sen running the university from abroad

In Indian universities, the position of Chancellor is ceremonial, and does not have any administrative functions

The Nalanda University Act clarifies that it is the Vice-Chancellor who is the principal academic and executive officer of the University.

Image shows a screenshof ot the Nalanda University Act.
Screenshot of the Nalanda University Act.

Therefore, Sen was never conferred the power to ‘run’ the institution.

BOOM reached out to Sen for a comment on this matter, and the article will be updated upon receiving a response.

2. Total expenditure incurred was Rs. 2729 crore.

The WhatsApp message implies that an amount of Rs. 2729 crore had been spent under the Chancellorship of Dr. Sen.

On April 22, 2015, V. K. Singh as the Minister of State of External Affairs stated that while an amount of Rs. 2727 crore had been approved by the Government of India for the establishment of the University, only Rs. 47.28 crore had been released at the time of this statement.

Therefore, an expenditure of Rs. 2729 crore is practically impossible.

3. Dr Gopa Sabharwal, Dr Anjana Sharma, Nayanjot Lahiri and Upinder Singh from Delhi University were made faculties.

BOOM found that Dr. Gopa Sabharwal was indeed the Vice-Chancellor of Nalanda University while Dr. Anjana Sharma was the Founding Dean (Academic Planning).

However, no mention of Lahiri or Singh was found on the Nalanda University website.

BOOM reached out to Lahiri, who rubbished the claims.

“I have neither applied for a faculty position at Nalanda nor did I ever serve as faculty there. I have not been paid even a rupee by Nalanda in any capacity whatsoever,” she stated.

BOOM also reached out to Singh, and the article will be updated when she responds.

4. Daman Singh and Amrit Singh, also daughters of Manmohan Singh, were appointed honorary faculties.

BOOM did not find any mention of Daman Singh and Amrit Singh on the Nalanda University website, nor was there any report that shed light on their involvement with Nalanda University.

Suhasini Haider, senior editor at The Hindu, claimed in a tweet in response to Jain’s that after a check she found out that neither of the two names mentioned were made faculty at the University. She also claimed that one of them doesn’t even live in the USA, as claimed by the viral message.

BOOM reached out to Daman Singh for a comment. The article will be updated if and when she responds.

5. After 2014, when Modi arrived, all these fraud were stopped and Amartya Sen was thrown out of Nalanda University

Prof. Sen’s tenure as Chancellor ended with his first term in the position, which lasted for three years as per the Nalanda University Act.

According to a report by The Hindu, Prof. Sen had claimed that there was a unanimous resolution for a renewal of his Chancellorship for another term. However, Dr. Sen had refused to do a second term as he felt that the government wants him “to cease being the Chancellor of Nalanda University”.

In response to a question at the Rajya Sabha dated August 13, 2015, V. K. Singh had stated that Prof. Sen “had publicly declared that he wanted to exclude himself from being considered for continuing as Chancellor of Nalanda University beyond July 2015”.

Image of Response by V K Singh at Rajya Sabha on Amartya Sen's exit from Nalanda
Response by V K Singh, Minister of State of External Affairs at the Rajya Sabha, 13.08.2015.

Thus, its safe to say that the WhatsApp message has some gaping loopholes that question its credibility.

Also Read: TOI Editor Tweets Misleading WhatsApp Message Targeting Amartya Sen, Cites ‘Govt Sources’

(BOOM is now available across social media platforms. For quality fact check stories, subscribe to our Telegram and WhatsApp channels. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.)

Claim Review : WhatsApp message claims existence of fraud and misuse of funds at the Nalanda University

Fact Check : False

Archis is a fact-checker and reporter at BOOM. He has previously worked as a journalist for broadsheet newspapers and in communications for a social start-up incubator. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from Sciences Po Paris and a Master's in Media and Political Communication from the University of Amsterdam.

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