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

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

A WhatsApp message containing a false narrative on misuse of funds at the Nalanda University has gone viral after been posted on Twitter by a senior TOI journalist.

Image Shows Economist Amartya Sen

A senior editor at Times of India tweeted out a WhatsApp message with false narratives about misuse of Nalanda University funds by Professor Amartya Sen, making it go viral on social media.

The content of the WhatsApp message has since been passed of as ‘news’ by several prominent websites like Rightlog and OpIndia along with social media influencers like Anshul Saxena.

On April 28, 2019, BOOM received the following WhatsApp message on the helpline number, detailing 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

How to spread (mis)information

Soon after, BOOM spotted a Twitter thread by Bharti Jain, an internal security editor at Times of India, which appeared to have been plagiarised word-to-word from the WhatsApp message.

Image shows tweets by Bharti Jain
To view archived version of the tweets, click here.

The same story was picked up by several prominent websites such as self-proclaimed ‘right-wing fact checker’ OpIndia, and right-wing news website Rightlog.

Related Stories:
Image shows article on Nalanda published by OpIndia
Screenshot of the article published by OpIndia. Click here for an archived version.
Image shows the article on Nalanda by Rightlog
Screenshot of the Rightlog article. Click here for an archived version.

Social media influencer Anshul Saxena also posted the same message on his Facebook page and provided Bharti Jain’s name as the source.

Image shows screenshot of Anshul Saxena's Facebook post on Nalanda
Screenshot of Anshul Saxena’s Facebook post on Nalanda. Click here for an archived version.

The message went viral, with Jain’s tweets being retweeted more than 2000 times, and Saxena’s Facebook post being shared around 3000 times.

WhatsApp Is Now A Government Source

Following the tweet by Jain, several users responded by asking for the source for her tweets.

Jain followed up by claiming that she received the information through ‘government sources’, denying the fact that it was actually plagiarised from a WhatsApp message.

Bharti Jain has since then removed most of her tweets carrying excerpts from the WhatsApp message, after being called out by many multiple users for using WhatsApp as a source to make allegations against an public institution.

BOOM reached out to Jain to understand why she deleted her tweets, but she declined to comment on this matter.

Anshul Saxena – who had earlier faced a ban on Facebook in the month of March – was also quick to remove the post from his Facebook page.

A Series of Allegations

The claims made by the message are:

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.

Fact Check

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.

However, a senior journalist, such as Jain, tweeting out such information citing ‘government sources’ has led to many social media users putting their trust in the authenticity of the message as it went viral.

After receiving severe backlash on Twitter, Jain apologised for spreading misinformation on Prof. Sen

(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, Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin .)

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

Fact Check : Misleading

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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