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Gujarat: Modified universities

EducationWorld October 12 | Education News EducationWorld

Well-known for his assertive — critics say authoritarian — style of putting his stamp and impress upon every sector of the economy of Gujarat (pop. 60 million), chief minister Narendra Modi is under fire for interfering with higher education institutions, particularly appointments of vice chancellors to universities in the state.

On June 30, Dr. Parimal Trivedi completed his second term as vice chancellor of Gujarat University. A search panel appointed to select his successor had short-listed three academics including Kailash Sodani of Udaipur University, Anamik Shah, professor of chemistry in Saurashtra University, Rajkot, and Adesh Pal, professor of English at the obscure Hemchandra Acharya North Gujarat University. Modi is alleged to have engineered the appointment of dark horse Pal, reportedly very close to the top BJP leadership in the state.

Within days of taking over as vice chancellor on September 2, Pal found himself in the cross-hairs of the opposition Congress Party which hauled him over the coals for questionable conduct. “We were besieged by telephone calls and representations to take up the matter of his appointment with the government,” says Narhari Amin, former deputy chief minister and currently member of the university’s executive council. “Pal was suspended twice during his stint with Hemchandra Acharya University, once for assaulting a senior faculty member, and then for marrying one of his students following the death of his first wife. Moreover, the vice chancellor holds a liquor permit in a state where consumption of alcohol is a non-bailable offence,” adds Amin.

Evidently, Pal’s appointment as vice chancellor hasn’t gone down well with the faculty and students of the Ahmedabad-based Gujarat University either. On September 5, a faculty agitation against the state government demanding implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations morphed into a personal attack against the new VC, with a hoarding near the campus depicting Pal sitting in the midst of a sea of empty liquor bottles. Moreover, a delegation of the National Student Union of India presented a memorandum to the state governor Dr. Kamala Beniwal, demanding cancellation of Pal’s appointment, while Amin has demanded an enquiry by a retired high court judge into corruption charges against him.

Nor is this the first top-level appointment of chief minister Modi which has generated controversy. Pal’s predecessor Dr. Trivedi, professor of physics at an Ahmedabad science college and BJP ward leader and convenor of the party’s Ahmedabad ‘intellectual cell’, who was appointed vice chancellor of Gujarat University in 2006, was also mired in numerous scandals and controversies. He was arrested and chargesheeted under s.3 (1) (10) of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 for intentionally hurting and humiliating a scheduled caste/scheduled tribe citizen. Moreover, charges of embezzlement and graft pertaining to printing of excessive answerbooks for exams and assorted stationery, premature withdrawal of bank deposits of Rs.100 crore, non-collection of the development fund, missing financial records and questionable award of contracts for infrastructure development, are pending against him in the state’s slow-moving courts.

According to opposition Congress Party spokesperson, Pal is by no means the only Modi acolyte to be appointed vice chancellor. Prof. M.K. Padalia, former vice president of the BJP unit of Rajkot, was appointed vice chancellor of Saurashtra University last October. Even his predecessor, Dr. Kamlesh Joshipura, was president of the BJP unit of Rajkot and a bosom pal of Modi.

Evidently, the rewards of toeing chief minister Modi’s hardcore hindutva line are many. After his retirement from Saurashtra University in August 2011, Joshipura was appointed vice chancellor of the state’s Indian Institute of Teacher Education, one of Modi’s latest experiments with a saffron core, sugar coated with globally bench-marked educational objectives. Moreover, Joshipura is also a state government nominee on the board of the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, the country’s top B-school. Among other key Modi protégés occupying apex-level vice chancellor positions are Shashiranjan Yadav at Kutch University; Manoj Soni, now heading Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University, Ahmedabad; Yogesh Singh at M.S. University, Vadodara and Harsh Padh at Sardar Patel University, Vallabh Vidyanagar. Another key appointment is that of Harshad Shah, a hardcore RSS activist as the first vice chancellor of the first children’s university in India.

Modi’s spreading patronage network within academia in Gujarat has spread gloom and despair among liberal, apolitical academics in the state. “The reputation of higher education institutions in Gujarat has never been great. Now the appointment of RSS and BJP hardliners with nominal qualifications as vice chancellors is certain to provide a huge setback to the state’s colleges and universities which were on the path of modernisation. It’s clear that by packing the faculties of universities with RSS/BJP hardliners, Modi will destroy higher education in Gujarat in the same manner as the CPM (Communist Party Marxist) did during its 34-year rule in West Bengal,” says a liberal arts professor of Gujarat University, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Almost certain to win the state assembly election due in a matter of months, Modi may well surpass the CPM in running Gujarat’s struggling universities into the ground.

R.K. Mishra (Gandhinagar)

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