Priscilla Jebaraj

CHENNAI: “An innovative India must combine both inclusion and excellence and it is wrong to see them as two separate and contradictory goals,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, accepting an honorary doctorate from one of the pioneers of Indian education, the University of Madras.

Marking the end of its 150th year celebrations on Friday, the university held a special convocation to confer honorary doctorates on Dr. Singh, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation Director-General Kandeh K. Yumkella.

Dr. Singh pointed out that the Indian civilisation had always been a land of learning, giving birth to scientific ideas, ancient languages, great religions, literature and art.

“If there was one fault with that culture, it was that opportunities for learning were not available to all. Today we can say with pride that democratic India is making determined efforts to extend this right to all our citizens,” he said.

He rebuked critics who “focussed on short-term problems and on issues pertaining to access to what is presently available.”

He felt that attention should instead be devoted to “growth and development and to the challenge of a multi-fold expansion of opportunities.” Such expansion should not compromise on quality, but should still ensure access, he said.

“Tamil Nadu ahead”

Mr. Karuninidhi noted that Tamil Nadu had led the way in opening the access gates by spearheading reservation in education for the backward communities. This had provided a ladder of social and economic advancement for the poor and downtrodden, he said.

Ms. Gandhi praised the Tamil Nadu example, saying it proved the potent force of education in social transformation and showed how expansion could go hand in hand with quality. “This is a lesson for the country, especially for those States now seeing the social revolution that Tamil Nadu saw in the early 20th century,” she said.