Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Mukul Kesavan on l'affaire Mehta

Mukul Kesavan's column in The Telegraph concludes with this: "... From Devanampiya to this, every epoch gets the Ashoka it deserves."

Before reaching this sentence, he has much to say about pretty much every key person in this episode -- Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Arvind Subramanian, the Chancellor, the Vice Chancellor -- and the subtext in their public pronouncements. He also has comments on a couple of commentators: Raghuram Rajan (who is deeply involved in another university not very different from Ashoka) and Gurcharan Das (the less said about him, the better).

Worth reading in full, but I have to include at least an excerpt here; so, here goes:

Universities like Ashoka are best understood as liberal arts universities with Indian characteristics. The philanthropists who fund and found these universities loom over them like colossi. The virtue of giving generously seems to purge them of self-awareness. In every official communication I’ve read, Ashoka’s founders capitalize their consequence: they are Founders. Ashoka’s board of trustees sent a statement to the faculty declaring that they had never interfered with the academic functioning of the university nor the freedom of faculty members to write about anything they wanted, in any forum that they wanted. That they could write this soon after seeing Mehta off the premises gives chutzpah a new meaning. They signalled their commitment to the autonomy of the university by endorsing the appointment of an Ombudsperson. A Lokpal. Fancy that. [Bold emphasis added]

* * *

There are just way too many news stories and opinion pieces following Pratap Bhanu Mehta's resignation from a professorship at Ashoka. Here's a (non-exhaustive) list of stuff allueded to in Kesavan's piece:

Update (3 June 2021): I should have linked to this excellent piece by Yogendra Yadav in The Print: No one is asking the right questions about Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s ouster from Ashoka University. "We pick soft targets, we discuss inanities, but do not talk about the elephant in the room when it comes to Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation."


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