The termination of Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey's services as visiting faculty in the department of Chemical Engineering, IIT-BHU evoked sharp criticism from different quarters. A complaint by students calling Pandey a ‘Naxalite’ seems the only immediate trigger.
On January 1, when most were busy welcoming the New Year, Indian Institute of Technology-Banaras Hindu University’s Board of Governors was busy conducting a crucial meeting that later resulted in the sacking of Magsaysay awardee Sandeep Pandey.
The social activist, who calls himself a Gandhian, has been a visiting faculty in the Department of Chemical Engineering at IIT-BHU for two academic sessions.
Pandey was not a full-time professor at BHU and his contract was supposed to end in July this year. The contract for guest faculty lapses in a year.
Many in the news media and on social media have stated that Pandey was sacked on charges of being a “Naxalite”, for engaging in “anti-national” activities and screening a banned documentary inside the BHU campus. The termination order, though, does not mention any such reason.
Nor have the senior officials at BHU given out such statements.
So, what was the chain of events that led to Pandey’s sacking? Pandey is not a new face at BHU or Varanasi. He has been visiting the university for various academic reasons and has been the face of the drive against the Coca Cola bottling plant in Mehandiganj, near Varanasi.
Problems between Pandey and BHU began brewing when he led an agitation inside the campus demanding that 40 employees whose contracts were terminated be made permanent. This happened around August 2015. In an unrelated event, Pandey had tried to earlier screen the banned BBC documentary on Jyoti Singh, India’s Daughter, inside the campus early last year. The Vice Chancellor had intervened back then to stop the screening. Moreover, the Chief Proctor of BHU along with Station Officer PS Lanka went to Pandey and asked him to stop the screening. He agreed and screened a different documentary, followed by a discussion on the issue of violence against women.
Meanwhile, some students had also complained against Pandey for propagating “Naxal” ideology inside the campus. A copy of the complaint was marked to IIT-BHU Director Rajeev Sangal and to Vice-Chancellor GC Tripathi. This written complaint resulted in the January 1 meeting. The complaint was not shared with the media, neither were the names of the students revealed.
BHU spokesperson Rajesh Singh said Pandey’s contract was terminated because he “was involved in anti-administration activities and was trying to spoil the academic atmosphere of the university, he had been given a month’s notice.”
IIT-BHU Director Rajeev Sangal did not respond to any phone calls or messages on this issue. But are there real ideological differences that led to Pandey’s sacking? A senior professor at BHU does not feel so. He said BHU has been a democratic varsity where all ideologies have received equal importance.
Amitabh Bhattacharya, veteran journalist and a BHU alumnus, said, “It is unfortunate that such activities are happening in the centennial year of BHU when the founder, Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviya, encouraged all ideologies to flourish in the campus.”
“There have been comrades and Marxists in BHU of all kinds as teachers and students but none of them were sacked. Perhaps there is a conflict of interest between both the parties, otherwise the guest faculty profile is an honorary one and there’s no question of sacking. It’s just a termination of services,” he added.
While speaking to Newslaundry, Sandeep Pandey said, “The decision to remove me was forced upon IIT-BHU Director Rajeev Sangal by Vice-Chancellor GC Tripathi and Dean of Faculty Affairs Dhananjay Pandey and one more person.” He also claimed that both the VC and Dean of Faculty Affairs are associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
“There is an outsider named Gaurav Garg who is an RSS hardliner. He spends all his time at the IIT campus and tries to misguide students, but no one will question him,” he said. “Haven’t you witnessed the growing numbers of shakhas inside the campus since the past two years? It’s an open secret,” he added.
“From day one, I have been trying to clarify the fact that I am not a Naxalite, the only ideology that I would consider myself closest to is Gandhian, I joined as a guest faculty in 2014 and started teaching development studies, I held a procession against Coca Cola along with my students and I also stood up for a BHU student Prashant Rahi [in 2014], who was termed a Naxalite and was seeking legal help. Is it wrong to stand up for one of your students?”
Pandey said there are people using the university to propagate RSS’ ideology but no one was questioning them. “I fight for women’s rights. Which is why I wanted to showcase the BBC documentary. But when the police approached me, I immediately changed my decision.”
Pandey said he will ask for the minutes of the Board meeting that was held on January 1 through the Right to Information Act. “If they really called me a Naxal, then they should furnish adequate proof. Or else I would be forced to go to court,” he said. Pandey was in Varanasi on Friday to take further action in the matter and the story, it seems, is far from over.
This article was republished from Newslaundry.com.