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On Record

'Badge Of Honour'

The noted academic and now an Aam Aadmi Party member reacts to the HRD ministry sacking him as UGC Member "with immediate effect".

'Badge Of Honour'
'Badge Of Honour'
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

28 September 2013

Dr M.M. Pallam Raju
Minister of Human Resource Development
Government of India
New Delhi

Dear Dr. Raju,

I must thank you for your ministry's Order retiring me from my responsibility as UGC Member “with immediate effect” (F. No. 7-1/2013-UiA, dated 18 September 2013). My first thought on receiving this order was to recall Kabir: "bhalaa huaa merii gagrii phuuTii, main paniyaa bharan se chhuuTii" (I'm glad my pitcher broke, relieving me of the drudgery of collecting water). I believe I am the first Member in the history of the UGC to have been retired by the government. This badge of honour assures me that I must have done something right.

They say arbitrary power is always nervous. So is your Order, as it labours for 11 pages to discover grounds that simply do not exist, cleverly buries in legalese the substantive issues that I had raised in my response to your Show Cause Notice, and focuses on technicalities. I would not waste your or my time in reiterating how this Order is illegal. I believe you have been told that the Order would be hard to defend in a court of law and that I could obtain a stay. That is perhaps why you have rushed to file a caveat in the Delhi High Court (dated 24 September 2013, filed by Shri Sandeep Jain, Under Secretary in your Ministry) in anticipation of my petition challenging this Order. I wish your Ministry had exercised the same legal acumen to deal with the cases of corruption and fraud within the UGC where several Members like me had to push the UGC and the Ministry to take action against the guilty. Your anxiety also explains the alacrity with which your government has appointed my successor. I wish your Ministry had shown an iota of this efficiency in matters that affect thousands of students, such as framing rules to regulate fees for the Private Universities and instituting scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students.

The Order is also full of ironies; I am sure the lawyer who drafted it for you did not intend these. I could not help smiling when I read that “[a]ny iota of political influence in the UGC’s decision making may vitiate the sacrosanct academic exercise of UGC’s decision making”. I remembered the proposal for IUC at Kakinada being set up to please you and the earlier episode involving the then Finance Minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee – in both these cases, I was the one who stood against political interference in the UGC’s decision making. The idea that appointment to the UGC must be “rigidly protected from political or personal lobbying” brought another smile, for I had read several news reports about the recent appointment of the Chairman, UGC.

The supreme irony, however, lay in the repeated reference to ‘conflict of interest’ in this Order. Your government had most brazenly institutionalized conflict of interest by appointing owners/managers of Deemed/Private universities and other institutions as Members of the UGC. In fact I was the one who raised this point in the very first meeting of the Commission that I attended, leading to the setting up of a Committee under my chairmanship. The report of that Committee resulted in the UGC becoming one of the few public institutions in India to have framed a policy on Conflict of Interests (which incidentally does not bar one from the membership of political parties). Perhaps I should not mind your government now teaching me lessons on ‘conflict of interest’.Perhaps we can expect your Ministry to now act on other cases of conflict of interest that lie all over the higher education sector.

Above all, I found your Order amusing due to its obsession with the grammar of power. It repeatedly refers to this “post” and its “prestige” and “the power/influence, that any member of the UGC can wield” and assumes that anyone in their right mind would fight to retain and reclaim this position of power. Those who sit in Shastri Bhavan can easily forget that the world of ideas is not governed by a grammar of power, that these ‘powerful’ positions do not hold any value for many academics.

As I wrote in my last letter, I did not seek this 'post', your government handed over this responsibility to me. As soon as the formation of Aam Aadami Party was announced on 2nd October 2012, I checked with your predecessor if my continuation in the UGC violated any rules, norms or precedent; he requested me to continue. Normally, I would have welcomed the prospect of being relieved of this responsibility but not if it were done to silence an inconvenient voice. I felt that I had a responsibility, to stay put in the Commission, if only to alert the academic community about some of the measures that your government was rushing through the UGC. Having done this, I would like to turn to other things.

I know your government has made all preparations for fighting a legal battle. Many of my friends and well-wishers have urged me to approach the court, if only to ensure that this case does not become a bad precedent that robs autonomous institutions of their remaining autonomy. My friend, and a leading lawyer of the country, Shri Prashant Bhushan tells me that this Order is against the letter and spirit of law, is inconsistent with past practices and is not likely to stand judicial scrutiny. He offered to take up this matter in public interest, but I had to decline his kind offer.

I suspect that you government would like this moral and political debate that is being carried out in the public domain to be reduced to a courtroom battle over someone’s reinstatement, a dispute over rules and their interpretation, a debate defined by the grammar of power. I would like this to remain above all, a debate about institutional norms and public good. I would like this to be a political debate in the highest sense of the term.

So, I’m afraid I am going to disappoint you. I am happy to be relieved and am truly relieved. Therefore, I do not plan to seek any more relief from any court of law. I would no doubt miss my wonderful colleagues in the Commission, but I have no desire to reclaim this responsibility. Ever since your Ministry issued me the Show Cause Notice, hundreds of students, teachers, researchers and public intellectuals, including some of the finest minds of this country, have protested against this move. A friend sent me “Sacking Mubaarak” greetings! More than one Member of the Commission spoke to me to express a wish to resign in protest.

This kind of moral and political support matters much more to me than any legal order. It tells me that when one voice of dissent is suppressed, many more and more powerful voices come up from nowhere. It assures me that the larger questions that I raised within the UGC will continue to be raised in my absence.

Yours sincerely,

Yogendra Yadav,
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies,29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110054 India
Office Phone: 23981012 (telefax Lokniti, CSDS), 23942199 (PBX, CSDS)

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