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Modi's yoga guru heads UGC chairman selection panel, shortlists 4 candidates

Priyata Brajabasi | Updated on: 4 July 2017, 0:55 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's admirers say that his ascent to power has given a decisive push to yoga in the country. But it seems Baba Ramdev isn't the only yoga guru for whom Achhe Din have arrived.

Meet PM Modi's yoga instructor HR Nagendra – who has now become part of several key committees in the government.

But it turns out that not all the committees are yoga-related. Apparently, Nagendra led the search-cum-selection committee (SCSC) panel to select the candidate for the post of University Grants Commission (UGC) chairman.

Sources confirmed to Catch that Nagendra was appointed by HRD ministry to head the selection committee for the post of UGC Chairman in January 2017.

He is also the chancellor of Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (S-VYASA), a deemed university located in Bengaluru.

Under the Modi government he has been made the chairman of International Day of Yoga Experts Committee and Task Force of AYUSH and the Committee on Yoga Education in Universities in the Ministry of Human Resources Development.

He is also the Vice- President of the Indian Yoga Association.

Not surprisingly, the Modi government awarded him with the Padma Shri in 2016.

Who is HR Nagendra?

Nagendra received a doctorate in mechanical engineering from IISc, Bangalore. He also served as a consultant at Havard University and was a part of the visiting staff at Imperial College, London.

74-year-old Nagendra has been Prime Minister Modi personal yoga instructor for the past several years. Even before the latter became the Prime Minister, he was taught by Nagendra in Gujarat. Apart from Modi, Nagendra has also taught yoga to some members of the Union Cabinet.

Despite his proficiency in yoga, how Nagendra ended up as the chairman of the selection committee for the UGC – the main grant giving body for higher education in India – is inexplicable.

Even people within the UGC questioned the HRD ministry's decision to appoint Nagendra as the head of the selection committee.

“It was baffling when we were told that a yoga instructor is being made the head of UGC chairman selection panel. It doesn’t make much sense,” an official within the UGC told Catch on the condition of annonymity.

Catch has also learnt that last month that the Nagendra-led selection committee submitted four names to HRD minister Prakash Javadekar for UGC chairman's post. According to sources, the four shortlisted names include National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) chairman DP Singh, Former Vice-Chancellor of Himachal Pradesh University ADN Bajpai, Delhi Technological University vice-chancellor Yogesh Singh and V Tawde from Maharashtra.

The selection process by the SCSC is over and the UGC chairperson will be decided by the HRD minister from between the four names.

Other than Nagendra, the SCSC also had former Lucknow University vice-chancellor D P Singh and former head of Saurashtra University KP Joshipura as members..

The process for appointing UGC chairperson and vice-chairperson has been underway since January 2017. The position of the UGC chairman has been vacant since the previous chairman Ved Prakash demitted office on April 3. He was appointed on January 18, 2013 with a condition that his tenure will be for five years or until he is 65, whichever was earlier. He was appointed during the UPA's tenure. 

The post of chairman and vice-chairman will be a significant one in the current circumstances since a committee has been set up to review all existing UGC regulations and recommend scrapping of obsolete ones. The new chairperson will also spearhead the process of restructuring the UGC, as announced in the Budget. This process is expected to radically change higher education in the country, though whether it will be for the good is still a moot point.

The UGC is working to encourages autonomy in universities and even privatise higher education centres in the country.

Given the consequences of this exercise, it seems strange that the government chose to appoint a yoga instructor and not someone with a background in higher education as the head of the panel to select the UGC chairman.

The appointment of his yoga instructor will also provide a stick to Modi's critics to accuse him of favouritism – something he claims stand against.

First published: 4 July 2017, 0:55 IST
Priyata Brajabasi @PriyataB

Priyata thinks in words and delivers in pictures. The marriage of the two, she believes, is of utmost importance. Priyata joined the Catch team after working at Barcroft Media as a picture desk editor. Prior to that she was on the Output Desk of NDTV 24X7. At work Priyata is all about the news. Outside of it, she can't stay far enough. She immerses herself in stories through films, books and television shows. Oh, and she can eat. Like really.