Shri M. Pallam Raju
Minister of Human Resource Development
Government of India,
September 10, 2013
Dear Shri Pallam Raju,
This refers to a notice [F.No. 7-1/2013-U1(A)] dated 4th September, 2013 signed by Mr. R.P. Sisodia, Joint Secretary in your Ministry. The notice asks me to explain why I should not be retired from the post of Member, University Grants Commission (UGC) with immediate effect for my ‘antecedents and credentials’ have altered and there is a ‘conflict of interest’ since I have joined a political party. When a TV channel asked you about this notice, you seemed surprised, and suggested that it was something done by the UGC, whose autonomy you respected. I sincerely hope that this extraordinary notice – apparently the first one in the 57 years of the history of the UGC – was not issued by your Joint Secretary without your knowledge and consent. I am attaching a copy in case it was (Annexure 1).
As I read the notice, I was amused, surprised and deeply saddened. I was amused by the idea that my ‘antecedents and credentials’ now stand ‘substantially altered’. I can understand why my credentials may have altered in the eyes of your government in the past few months, but it is not clear how that could affect my academic credentials that must have been the basis of my nomination to the UGC. Besides, I cannot possibly understand how even the powerful gaze of an almighty state could alter my antecedents, my history. I was also amused that a democratically elected government should regard participation in politics with this sense of suspicion and fright. For a moment, I did believe that you might not have actually seen this notice before it was issued.
I was surprised that it took your Ministry more than nine months to discover that I was active with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). I can only hope that your Ministry does not take that long to register media reports relevant to the state of education in our country. My sense of surprise was even deeper, for I had on my own informed your predecessor Shri Kapil Sibal (through a telephone call to V. Umashankar, his P.S.) about my intent to join the AAP, not yet formed in the first week of October last year. Through him I had conveyed my decision to resign from the advisory committees of the Ministry (confirmed in writing via an email dated 30th October, 2013, Annexure 2) and had enquired whether my continuation in a statutory body like the UGC was in conflict with any rules, norms or conventions. Mr. Umashankar got back to me next day to say that the Ministry respected the autonomy of institutions like the UGC, did not see any problem in my continuation and, in fact, valued my continued association with the UGC (as stated by him to The Indian Express dated September 6, 2013, Annexure 3). I got the same response in my subsequent discussions with Secretary (HE), Chairman UGC and my colleagues in the Commission and decided to continue working with the UGC. You can understand my sense of surprise, then, at receiving a notice that claims to discover what I had pro-actively communicated and repeatedly discussed.
Above all, I felt deeply saddened on reading this notice. I felt saddened not by what it said about me, but by what it said about those who wield power. It follows the protocols of a show-cause notice that the government issues to its employees, adopting the tone of a benefactor to a beneficiary. It assumes that membership of a body like the UGC is a favour that the government bestows upon someone, of whom it can demand an explanation. Regardless of the ruling party, this is the mindset that governments display in dealing with academics, scientists, artists, writers and sports-persons. This hubris of bureaucratic and political power saddens me – not just because it insults ideas, creativity and excellence – but also because itemaciates politics by delinking it from insight, innovation and energy.
Membership of the UGC is not something I asked for, or even thought about. The nomination came as a complete surprise to me. In fact, given my concerns about the reputation of the organisation following the Deemed University scandal, I sought advise and guidance from a number of friends and colleagues about whether I should associate myself with such an organisation. I was assured by the fact that this was a purely honorary position that carried no salary or perks. (The UGC does offer a sitting fee of Rs. 2000 per meeting, which I decided not to accept.) The mindset that informs your Ministry’s notice makes me sad, for it cannot even imagine that ‘posts’ like this carry little value for many teachers, researchers and other men and women of ideas in this country. To be honest, being relieved of this responsibility would leave me with more time for my research, for my family and for my duties as a citizen of this country.
Many thoughts crossed my mind as I confronted your Ministry’s demand for an explanation as to why I should not be ‘retired’ forthwith? Frankly, my first impulse was to say, “Thank you very much, please go ahead”, but I resisted that, because I take my responsibilities in bodies like this very seriously. It is one thing to step down on my own and quite another to submit to removal for wrong reasons and thus help set a bad precedent. I could say, “It’s pointless to offer explanations to a government that is out to target a political opponent”, but I won’t, for I cherish the autonomy of institutions like the UGC from the government, even if it is notional. Or I could offer my defence, as an accused does, but I won’t, for I refuse to be put in the dock. I have done no wrong, concealed nothing, nor violated any of the norms and values I uphold. I see no reason why I should offer anyone an explanation.
There is only one way I can respond to this notice. I must assume that when your Ministry asks me for an explanation it truly wants my help in understanding why it should not use its statutory power to remove a member for the reasons stated in this notice. I must assume that your government has not made up its mind and is waiting for my answer to arrive at a decision. I must assume that you and I are engaged in a sincere search for truth. Allow me, in this spirit, to offer you a few reasons why your government may not wish to go ahead with the action it proposes in the notice:
1. Such an action would be contrary to the letter and spirit of the law, rules and regulations and the Code of Conduct that govern the membership of the UGC:
2. Positing a ‘conflict of interest’ between the Membership of the UGC and that of a political party is not just mistaken, it is also misleading for it takes attention away from some of the most pressing scandals involving conflict of interest in the higher education sector. While I must compliment your government for at last recognising ‘conflict of interest’ as a valid concern, your choice of the case to give effect to this newly found concern might surprise many.
3. Finally, this decision would set a dangerous precedent and deter autonomous bodies from functioning autonomously, for it would send a message that any independent member of an autonomous body who dares to disagree with the Ministry would be thrown out. You may not have had time to go into the intricacies of the functioning of the Commission in the last few months. Therefore, allow me to place on record some of the positions taken by me that maybe perceived to be responsible for the notice issues by your Ministry:
I do not know what prompted your Ministry to issue this Notice when it did so, but in view of the sequence narrated above it is quite likely that most academics and fair minded observers might view this notice as retaliation for my daring to question the diktats of the Ministry and the desires of its Minister. This would be a dangerous signal, as it might undermine whatever remains of free speech and autonomy in these autonomous institutions. This would be unfortunate, not so much for the persons who occupied positions in these autonomous bodies, but above all for the UGC and the government. Unfortunately, most good academics take a dim view of such bodies and are unenthusiastic to associate with them. This action might reinforce this perception. The real loser would be the government and the UGC.
The UGC was set up precisely because of a recognition that there was some wisdom outside the Ministry; that the Ministry needed to involve independent minded academics in the framing of the Higher Education Policy while maintaining an ‘arm’s length’ relationship with such autonomous bodies. Doing away with this autonomy will erase the distinction between the UGC, the government and the ruling party. It might seem today that these distinctions are fictional, but I’m sure you would agree with me that these are the sacred fictions that liberal democracies live by.
I must confess that I do not care very much for the Ministry’s decision in this case involving my membership, but I’m sure you would not allow short-term bureaucratic expediency or political partisanship to erode institutions that have a life beyond you and me. Allow me to remind you of a different time in our country’s history, just after independence. Acharya Narendra Deva, a renowned scholar of Budhdhism and the national President of Socialist Party, the leading opposition party of the day, was appointed the Vice Chancellor of two universities consecutively. From what I know, Jawaharlal Nehru was instrumental in persuading Acharyaji to take up this position. Party politics may have travelled a long way since then, but I would like to believe that the inheritors of that legacy would not wish to undo everything that Nehru did.
I’m sorry for inflicting such a long response to a short missive that had perhaps escaped your attention in the first place. I hope the two put together make for interesting reading, if not today, perhaps later. We have met briefly, if pleasantly, but have not had to time to sit down to discuss substantive matters. I look forward to an opportunity to do so. Given the public debate that this issue has generated, I am taking the liberty of releasing this response to the public.
CSDS, 29 Rajpur Road,
R. P. Sisodia,
Department of Higher Education,
Ministry of Human Resource Development
Annexures Part 1 by OutlookMagazine
Annexures Part 2 by OutlookMagazine
for several years JNU historians were card carrying members of the CPI(M). Nobody raise this issue then. The Hinduva academicians had options. They were members of RSS but not the BJP. Yogendra Yadav and AAP didn't have the foresight to create an intellectual cell. The Congress, on the other hand, has no such options. No intellectual worth her salt would join the Congress party. Which leads to the question: Are Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh, Shashi Tharoor, intellectuals? No, they are bureaucrats who owe their careers to the Congress Party. Crony bureaucratism, Crony academics, Croy blah blah blah.
Someone might wonder if your government would have acted with similar zeal if I had joined the Congress party
Either they thought YY was a Congi until now and spared him.
They do not know that he is a Congi trojan horse in AAP and hence the reason for friendly fire.
He's arguing because he is a good guy there is no conflict of interest. But what if it was BJP member? - he would argue the exact opposite
that's why these blanket rules come in
Nice letter - sort of like "Meethi Churi Sey Katl - slowly sliding it in - gently but surely twisting and turning".
Responsible government workers do not take sidd, much less take part, in politics
Even if the govt misrule has gone too far
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