The Slow Squeeze
There was a time when the UPA celebrated its connections with intellectuals and academicians, feted them and, despite their critical views, gave them space on advisory committees shaping and directing future policies of the government. They were respected, and so were their dissenting views. But that was some time ago. Now in decline, the UPA sees the entire world as its critic, the media as its foe. As for academicians with dissenting views—off with them.
When a controversy breaks out, it’s often quite difficult to pinpoint how and when everything unravelled. But at least two outspoken scholars—Yogendra Yadav and Pratap Bhanu Mehta—are feeling the pain of UPA’s retribution. Yadav, a well-known psephologist and social scientist, and the human resources development (HRD) ministry have locked horns. It’s not hard to guess it must be over his forthright dissent and his affiliation to the Aam Admi Party (AAP). He’s being asked to quit his honorary post at the University Grants Commission (UGC). Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), has not held back on his biting critique of the government in newspaper columns. Just as Yadav’s political affiliations were known, so was Mehta’s prolific and unaffiliated voice, occupying the liberal space in the media. An independent-minded interventionist, he too, it is learnt, has caused much discomfort to the UPA with his writings. For that, he too has been feeling the sting of the government’s lash. The prime minister’s media advisor even launched a Twitter counter-offensive against Mehta’s views.
The manner in which these two academicians have been targeted for action mirror each other. Ever since Yadav associated himself with the massive movement demanding an effective Lokpal to check and act against corruption in high places, he became a thorn in the side of the UPA. The discomfort he caused the UPA during the height of the Lokpal movement and his subsequent association with the AAP set the HRD ministry on collision course with Yadav.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta. (Photograph by Vishal Koul)
The question being asked is: why has the government suddenly seen a conflict of interest between Yadav’s politics and his academic pursuits? The manner in which he has been singled out smacks of the hypocrisy practised by those in power, for there are no questions asked about the presence of politicians on the boards of medical and engineering colleges and other institutions. Why make an example of Yadav unless, of course, new rules are being framed to bar politicians from engaging with academic institutions?
A little before this, sometime around August 2012, another recommendation came before the UGC board members. This time, it was a note from former HRD minister Kapil Sibal to look into a request from a minister who would later become the president of India—Pranab Mukherjee. The proposal that Sibal wanted the UGC to examine had to do with funds allocation for a college where Pranab once was a student and later a teacher. Yadav dissented. “The objective was noble, but I suggested the setting up of a corpus for encouraging all colleges that come up in the countryside. ‘Why single out one college from a rural area?’ I’d asked,” he says.
Eventually, Yadav found that dissent, though celebrated, was not always welcome. A man who was seen as a moral filter in the commission began to be viewed as an obstructionist red-flagging the government’s proposals. Another flashpoint, well chronicled and reported, came when Yadav took on the HRD MoS Pallam Raju for his proposal to set up an inter-university centre for teacher education at J.N. University, Kakinada. “All I did was to simply ask, ‘Why Kakinada and why not somewhere in Orissa?’” he says. Soon, a showcause notice was served on Yadav, asking why he should be allowed to continue as a UGC board member. This was prompted by concern expressed by ministry officials about an apparent conflict of interest arising from Yadav’s political affiliations. It is also learnt that the government has started inquiries into the service records of Yadav’s wife, who teaches at Delhi University.
Somewhat similar is the case with Mehta, who is similarly not coy about dissenting views—he had parted ways with the UPA in its first term, stepping down from the Knowledge Commission over differences on the reservation policy. But particularly galling to the government, it seems, was a July 29 article in The Indian Express titled ‘While We Were Silent: A story of destructive governance and citizens who did not speak out’. Mehta said the UPA had dismantled every democratic structure over the years, but the voter never spoke out. The tone of the piece was reminiscent of Martin Niemoller’s poem about how German intellectuals remained indifferent while the Nazi came first for the communists, then the socialists, then the trade unionists; by the time they came for the speaker of the poem, there was no one to stand up for him. It was this that set off a Twitter battle. It is learnt that the government’s displeasure was conveyed to Mehta in the strongest terms, though Mehta himself refused to comment.
Academicians say governments, whatever their ideologies, see themselves as patrons and threaten to withdraw patronage in the face of dissent. Harsh Sethi, a consulting editor with Seminar and former deputy director of the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR), says this is also because institutions like the UGC have failed to assert their autonomy in letter and spirit. As for the move against Yadav, he calls it a “third-rate witch-hunt”.
Apropos of Quiet Down, Or Else (Sep 23), when patronage is bestowed, the writing on the wall is well-defined and clear. Yogendra Yadav was a UGC functionary before he was a member of Arvind Kejriwal’s party. Government postings are not for free souls.
First of all, this is a drama. AAP and CON party are playing a good game to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. CON party plays these game to hoodwink people. There is Loksatta in AP which was started by honest IAS officer. The party was forced by YSR using threats to the founder's family in all 290 seats in AP in the last elections. The party took away votes ranging from 1000-2000 votes on average and in some places as high as 10000. In many places, CON party won with majorities of 1000-2000 votes.
This thief Yogendra Yadav is a CON agent who used to be dumbo Rahul's political adviser. He regularly spews venom on Modi and tries to manipulate opinion polls against BJP. Suddenly, he became AAP politicians and CON party is doing a drama. I hope people don't fall for this CON game of CON party and CON Yadav.
The idea of 'dessenting academician' that Mr. Yadav is supposed to be, then what if dissent in opinion is what the Congress considers? Is Mr. Yadav a dissenter, of any thought and means, then? What seems a very unusual thought is, that because the opposition was so against Indira Gandhi, the term, 'foreign hand', seems to mean members of the Congress (I), and people who weren't dissenting, but seemingly subverting the manifesto.
If I might plainly ask, if 'communal religion' and 'communal politics' is gone, then what if well to do Indians in a modern, developed India use 'God' as a rallying cry against injustice by, to and against each other? It seems, no one makes any issue as a human. Unless 'God' and 'religion' is any consideration, no other issue is. About 'women enfranchisement', India says a woman is equal to man, because she has the same rights as man. Apparently, people are saying, that women and men are actually equal, and like God takes care of the dead, the courts will take care of any dispute between the sexes. What if people become increasingly homosexual in preference, and men start 'hitting' on any man? Men feel no emotion of anger, when they protect themselves in certain situations, because they are heterosexual. There is no guilt, either.
When patronage is bestowed the writing on the wall is well defined and clear. Government postings are not for free souls. Patronage comes at a price and those who cannot afford to pay it must steer clear of government positions.
Fascism, Sonia ishtyle...
What else can you expect from Stooges of Mrs.Sonia calling the shots in every functioning of the UPA government..
Shame on Congress.
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