Pratap Bhanu Mehta's Exit Upsets Ashoka University Students & Faculty

The resignation by the political scientist was followed by the exit of yet another noted professor - Arvind Subramanian.

The faculty and student body of the Ashoka University released their respective statements on Thursday to voice solidarity with political scientist and commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

Mehta, a noted scholar, recently resigned from the university with speculations that his critical views on the Narendra Modi-led administration might have drawn pressure internally, leading him to resign.

"In light of media reports that circulated before the official announcement of Professor Mehta's departure from the university, it seems quite plausible that his resignation was a direct consequence of his role as a public intellectual and critic of the government," read the joint statement by the university faculty.

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Two days after Mehta's departure, Arvind Subramanian - a noted economist and former Chief Economic Advisor to the Indian government, and also a fellow professor at Ashoka University, resigned in solidarity with Mehta.

"That even Ashoka—with its private status and backing by private capital—can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom is ominously disturbing," Mehta wrote in his resignation letter.

Student Body Demands Transparency

The university's student body – known as the Student Government, also put out a statement in solidarity with the departing professors, and demanded high transparency regarding the whole process.

"We strongly condemn the conditions that led to these resignations and the lack of transparency from the university administration about the same. Professor Mehta and Professor Subramanian are invaluable members of the Ashokan community an we are extremely saddened that they have submitted their resignations under these conditions," the statement read.

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Having being informed of the resignations only through media reports, the Student Government also questioned the lack of communication about the resignation from official sources. Finally, the statement demanded the reinstatement of both the professors, and transparency in the process of resignations. It also asked that the resignation written by Mehta be made public, with his consent.

According to screenshots of emails sent by the Student Government to the entire staff, faculty and all the students, a Town Hall meeting was held at 6 pm on Thursday evening with the Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar.

The hashtags #notmyashoka and #ashokawithpbm started trending on Twitter, as images of protests by students at the campus started emerging on Twitter. Students were also providing updates on the Town Hall meeting on Thursday evening using these hashtags.

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Mehta's resignation letter was finally released on Thursday evening, which further confirmed the reasons for his sudden exit. "After a meeting with Founders it has become abundantly clear to me that my association with the University may be considered a political liability," he wrote.

Education Away From Politics, Or Not

Ashoka University, a privately funded institute located in Sonipat, Haryana, was established in 2014 with the promise of providing 'world class' education in liberal arts, humanities and sciences.

As universities and students around the country came under increasing pressure from the Modi administration, Ashoka University poised itself as a safe place for education, away from all the politics.

The statements by the faculty and student body, along with the emails sent by the student body to the students, faculty and administration reveal the perception among the faculty and students that pressure from the government to silence its critics may now have reached Ashoka University. "Ashoka has always prided itself as distant from the government," a professor at the university told BOOM on condition of anonymity.

In an opinion piece for The Wire, Delhi University professor and political commentator Apoorvanand writes, "But when they nudge him (Mehta) to resign from the leadership position because he is questioning the claims of those in power, they are compromising the very foundation of their being. They claim to have created a space that will give students resources to think and question. But when the questions become real and start making the academic exercise meaningful, they retreat from their promise,"

Updated On: 2021-03-18T21:53:07+05:30
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