The Intelligence Bureau reportedly sent the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development a notification which is believed to have deterred the government from granting the institute of eminence tag to several premier private universities including Ashoka University, OP Jindal Institute, KREA and Azim Premji University.
The note, according ThePrint, said that those associated with these universities have been critical of the ruling BJP government, and of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Here’s why it matters
According to the report published on Monday, the IB sent its inputs in a note to the Human Resource Development Ministry headed by Prakash Javadekar, last month.
This marks the latest development in the centre’s crusade against centres of liberal arts across the country that have encouraged free and critical academic thought without having to watch out for Hindu trolls so far. The government and its digital army has cracked down on dissent and liberal discourses in several public- and private-sector institutes over the last four years, billing them as seditious, anti-national and anti-Hindu.
As recently as last month, historian-professor Aparna Vaidik and graphic novelist Srividya Natarajan came under fire for allegedly indoctrinating children with the latter’s Gardener in the Wasteland. Right-wing activists have claimed the novel distorts facts about Adi Sankara and promulgates hate speech.
The red flags are really saffron
The note which is in ThePrint’s possession describes the vice-chancellor of Ashoka University, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, as an unrelenting critic of the government. It also made a note that the university’s chairman and founder Ashish Dhawan fund “anti-government propaganda sites like the Wire.in,” referring to his connection with the Independent Public Spirited Media Foundation (IPSMF), which promotes excellence in independent, public spirited and socially impactful journalism.
The IB also accuses Wipro-owned Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives Limited of funding The Wire. The note which has been shared with “higher quarters” also refers to a study conducted by the Azim Premji university to focus on the the food crisis in Modi’s flagship rural employment MGNREGA scheme. “At the Wipro earthian awards 2016, Premji had also said “Smart city projects today is more talk than action. It has got a lot of traction from the Prime Minister, but its implementation has been very shallow”, the IB noted.
KREA University which hasn’t even commenced classes made it to the IB’s list, because it has former RBI governor and noted critic of the Modi government, Raghuram Rajan, on its board. During the launch of the university in March 2018, he had said, “We need to learn to respect universities as places where ideas are debated.”
The document also notes that one of the members of the university’s governing council, Anu Aga, was recorded as saying that “Modi did little to stop the rioters in Gujarat” in a public event. Besides being accused of funding The Wire, co-founder of Bengaluru’s Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Cyrus Guzder, was one of the petitioners who had moved top court to apportion the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir land in Ayodhya for non-religious public use.
The note also points to an article by the eminent urban activist, on the Gujarat riots where he had “likened the attacks on Muslim homes to a ‘genocide’”.
The director of the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, has never been a veiled critic of Modi’s policies. In 2017, Dileep Mavlankar wrote that “health indices show ‘Gujarat model’ is in a poor shape”. “If you lose a war, will you blame the soldiers or general? If services are not receiving [sic], the government has to take responsibility,” he was quoted as saying.
Another institute which came under the IB’s radar for daring to question the means of Modi’s ambitious policies was Jamia Hamdard, after chancellor Habil Khorakiwala, expressed apprehension about the government’s track record of implementing schemes and suggesting that the shortage of medicines, lack of infrastructure could be a major challenge in rolling out the Ayushman Bharat scheme.
Several institutes including OP Jindal Global University in Sonepat and Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, Bhubaneswar, of harbouring wrongdoers and “negative news” creators in the faculty. KIIT founder Achyut Samanta has led his institute to legal action, for allegedly encroaching on forest land. Naveen Jindal has similarly been accused of wrongfully allotting mining rights, in a CBI case filed against former coal minister Dasari Narayan Rao.
According to the note, the chancellor of Vellore Institute of Technology, G Viswanathan, had said last year, “Wondering why only three institutions were selected in the private sector — including the yet-to-be-born Jio institute.” The IB also noted that VIT students had accused the authorities of turning a blind eye to gender discrimination on campus.
What’s next for these institutes?
Higher education secretary in the HRD ministry, R. Subrahmanyam, denied the existence of this report over a tweet. Instead, he told ThePrint in response, “The report of the EEC (Empowered Expert Committee) would be considered in the UGC meeting on 29 January.” The UGC will meet senior HRD ministry officials today to approve the recommendations but the delay in approval is being attributed by some sources to the IB note.
Based on the the EEC’s recommendations, 19 universities were shortlisted last month, for the second round of awarding the IoE tag. The committee was headed by former chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami.
The Intelligence Bureau list contains names of nine private institutions, which are among the 12 private and seven public institutes selected 6 months after the first set of institutions were announced.
Public institutions with the IoE tag will be liable to receive Rs 1,000 crore in funding from the government over a period of five years, while private ones will be awarded complete autonomy from regulators. It is an undertaking to create a new class of universities but has already courted controversy when the first list left out premier institutions like JNU or IIT-Kharagpur but included Jio Institute which has not even been built yet.
Other schools which received the status was IIT-Bombay, IIT-Delhi, IISc Bangalore, and private players BITS Pilani and Manipal University. A total of 30 institutions are expected to get this tag in phases.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.