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“Political Liability”: Academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta On Quitting University

Pratap Bhanu Mehta had quit as Ashoka University’s vice-chancellor two years ago.

New Delhi:

Academic and political commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta whose resignation from Ashoka University this week reignited a discussion on the consequences of criticising the BJP-led government at the centre had written in his letter to the university authorities about the “risks” of his writings.

“After a meeting with Founders it has become abundantly clear to me that my association with the University may be considered a political liability,” he wrote in his letter dated Monday, March 15.

“My public writing in support of a politics that tries to honour constitutional values of freedom and equal respect for all citizens, is perceived to carry risks for the university. In the interests of the University I resign,” he said.

Dr Mehta, 54, considered one of the country’s top scholars on politics and political theory, constitutional law, governance and political economy, had stepped down as the university’s vice-chancellor two years ago.

In the letter addressed to Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar, Dr Mehta also requested for a smooth transition for the students of the prestigious liberal arts university in Haryana’s Sonipat as well as consideration for his driver who, he said, had moved jobs with him.

“It is clear it is time for me to leave Ashoka. A liberal university will need a liberal political and social context to flourish. I hope the university will play a role in securing that environment. Nietzsche once said that “no living for truth is possible in a university.” I hope that prophecy does not come true. But in light of the prevailing atmosphere, the Founders and the Administration will require renewed commitment to the values of Ashoka, and new courage to secure Ashoka’s freedom,” he wrote.

A prominent columnist known for pieces often critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, his resignation was followed on Thursday by one from his colleague, economist Arvind Subramanian, as well as faculty members writing to the vice-chancellor expressing dismay.

The faculty members said Dr Mehta’s exit set a “chilling precedent for future removals of faculty” and is a “matter of great anguish”.

“In light of media reports that circulated before the official announcement of Professor Mehta”s departure from the university, it seems quite plausible that his resignation was a direct consequence of his role as a public intellectual and critic of the government. We are greatly troubled by this scenario,” a statement issued by the faculty members said.

Here is the full text of Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation letter

To,

Prof. Malabika Sarkar,

Vice- Chancellor, Ashoka University.

Sonepat.

Dear Prof Sarkar,

I write to tender my resignation from Ashoka University as University Professor. After a meeting with Founders it has become abundantly clear to me that my association with the University may be considered a political liability. My public writing in support of a politics that tries to honour constitutional values of freedom and equal respect for all citizens, is perceived to carry risks for the university. In the interests of the University I resign. I would request that the resignation take immediate effect. I am teaching one class, and would not like to leave the students stranded. But I think the university can find a solution. I can informally finish out the rest of the classes, if no other solution is found.

It has been a great privilege to get to know the students and several wonderful colleagues at Ashoka. I hope that the institution continues to thrive. I thank you and the Chancellor for your personal kindness over the years of my association with Ashoka.

It is clear it is time for me to leave Ashoka. A liberal university will need a liberal political and social context to flourish. I hope the university will play a role in securing that environment. Nietzsche once said that “no living for truth is possible in a university.” I hope that prophecy does not come true. But in light of the prevailing atmosphere, the Founders and the Administration will require renewed commitment to the values of Ashoka, and new courage to secure Ashoka’s freedom.

My only request is that the administration cooperate in making all the transition formalities as painless as possible. If any arrangements can take due consideration of my driver, Gajendra Sahu, I will be most grateful. He moved jobs with me and should not be penalised. If some interim help can be granted to him, while I make alternative arrangements to transfer him to an appropriate payroll, I shall be obliged.

I will forever remain a supporter of the values Ashoka is meant to embody. Please convey my deepest gratitude to all of Ashoka’s faculty, students and staff. They have all been unfailingly professional, supportive and generous.

I will have a hard copy with my signature sent to you as well. But this mail be treated as my resignation.

With warmest personal regards,

Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Cc: Chancellor, Rudrangshu Mukherjee

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