Reading List and Its Discontents
By Diya Sood, UG ’23 Reading lists are an essential academic function of the study of
By Edict News Staff
A source, who wishes to remain anonymous, told The Edict that the resignation of Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta was endorsed by the Founders of the University. This endorsement, according to a senior faculty member with whom our source spoke, was motivated by an understanding that if Prof. Mehta resigned, the University’s efforts to acquire a new plot of land to expand the campus would get much smoother. Additionally, formal recognition for the fourth-year post-graduate diploma, Ashoka Scholars’ Program, was also hinted at being part of the deal.
When asked for comment, the Founders responded stating that- “Ashoka’s new plot was granted in 2018. Following this, there were some issues with the alignment of a national highway coming up near the new plot. These were resolved in September 2020 by NHAI realigning the highway and HSVP making adjustments to the plot size.” Whether they faced hurdles in the expansion remains unknown.
A couple hours before noon on 17th March, The Indian Express reported that noted public intellectual and former Vice-Chancellor of Ashoka University, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, had resigned as a professor of political science in the University. The circumstances surrounding the resignation were unclear. The University had “sidestepped” a question by the Indian Express about whether the resignation was related to Prof. Mehta’s criticism of the government. This was coupled with a scathing tweet by Krea University Prof. Ramachandra Guha following the release of the news, in which he stated that “[the University’s Trustees] have chosen to crawl when asked to bend,” implying that there was more to the resignation than meets the eye.
Prof. Mehta, who was the President of the reputed think-tank Centre for Policy Research, has long been a vocal critic of the ruling dispensation, for which he has also come under fire multiple times over the past few years. In an op-ed published in the Wire less than 7 hours after the story first broke, Delhi University Prof. Apoorvanand said: “By asking Mehta to continue teaching after stepping down as vice-chancellor, the trustees tried to be at peace with themselves.” The op-ed also argued: “We will be told that [Prof. Mehta] has not given any reason for his resignation and there is nothing to suggest that there is political pressure behind it. But only naive people will accept this argument.”
As of 9 PM on 17th March, the University had not yet sent out an official email regarding Prof. Mehta’s abrupt exit and had only given straitjacket replies to emails by students demanding clarity. The current Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Malabika Sarkar, has not yet publicly addressed the allegations that Prof. Mehta had to resign due to pressure from the Trustees, who in turn faced pressure from the government. VC Sarkar, in her only public statement so far, has claimed that the decision to resign was “[Prof. Mehta’s] own.” VC Sarkar also scheduled a meeting with the Student Government at 6 PM on the same day. The Edict reached out to the VC for an official statement, but the office did not immediately respond to our request.
The articles had an immediate effect on the student body. The news was circulated widely amongst the students’ various whatsapp groups and discussions about it ran into hundreds of messages within a matter of hours. A petition by students demanding more information following the news has collected over 270 signatories. In a heartfelt email to his students thanking them for “being an inspiration,” Prof. Mehta revealed that “after discussions with the university about prevailing circumstances, it became clear to me that it was best to move on.”
“When [the promoters of Ashoka University] nudge [Prof. Mehta] to resign from the leadership position because he is questioning the claims of those in power,” said Prof. Apoorvanand’s op-ed, “they are compromising the very foundation of their being. They claim to have created a space that will give students resources to think and question. But when the questions become real and start making the academic exercise meaningful, they retreat from their promise.”
(Post Note, as of March 20th at 18:00) An article published in Time Magazine on March 19th Independently reported our anonymous source’s claim that Professor Mehta’s resignation was endorsed by the Founders linking it to the expansion of the University.
Their piece reads, ‘The founders of Ashoka, a privately-funded university established in 2014 as India’s answer to the Ivy League, had told Mehta in a meeting that his criticism of the Indian government was threatening the planned expansion of the university, according to an Ashoka employee with knowledge of the conversation, who requested anonymity out of concern for their job.
Neither Ashoka University nor the Indian government responded to TIME’s requests for comment. But in response to a similar allegation reported by the Edict, Ashoka’s student newspaper, a co-founder of the university said the Edict’s article was “factually inaccurate.” Mehta did not respond to a request for comment.”
(Update as on March 22nd, 11:15pm) The Edict reached out to the Founders for comment on the piece. The VP of External Engagement, Ali Imran shared his response via email communication on March 21st.