I have been a penchant reader of Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s columns. He is a renowned critic of the current government and a man who only knows the language of an open fist. If the academician’s constructive criticism can be called a ‘political liability’ upon the university, then the current government cannot also be called monocratic and tyrannous. It is only a pragmatic analogy. In the notorious times when educated scholars and teachers are seen to be siding with the powerful and those who resort to injustices, Pratap Bhanu Mehta narrates to us the emancipation of truth and constitutionalism from a cage walled with perceptions and propaganda.
On 4th of March, the Swedish V Dem report was released. Its conclusion said India is now an ‘elected autocracy,’ and not a democracy as we claim it is, which indeed is indefensible. The way legislations like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was drafted, the Farm bills were passed in the Rajya Sabha, and the way war chants are given by the government that ‘we want to wipe off the opposition’ can in no way be categorized as ‘casual’ democratic attempts. These are a few acts which are unregrettable cynical. Some speculations say that ‘people like Pratap Bhanu Mehta’ write columns criticizing the indian government and these columns are the reason for India sliding down its ranking in almost all the international reports. The government has all the right to discredit the report but it must introspect its actions which are the obvious reasons for India’s degradation in such international rankings. Blaming it on Pratap Bhanu Mehta and not the government’s selective and divisive legislations, the people seem to be fooling themselves.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s exit from Ashoka University has sparked protests in the campus and his students are now worried about the freedom they are ‘obliged’ to practise based on the kind of ideology they preach. Having different views has now become so germane to the mainstream accord that someone who jibes on a liberal ideology is considered to be a traitor, less indian. It’s hysterical how someone from the cabinet itself cannot be called a traitor for dampening the confidentiality of a sensitive piece of information with a media person who cites to win television rating points at the hand of our martyrs.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s only fault was that he spoke the truth. His only fault was that he taught his students how ‘dark shadows of authoritarianism are hovering over us,’ how we are supposed to break the walls of the cage and stand up for each other, for democratic principles and for the constitution. If believing in the politics of constitutionalism, valuing freedom and the equal rights for all citizens was a political liability for the university, then how will the university deal and rescue itself from the values of democracy and freedom running in the veins of the students of Ashoka University? Can Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation be able to dissolve the fundamental values of constitutionalism from the hearts of the students? The answer is No.
The most recent incident I could recall similar to Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation is that of Anand Teltumbde. A man who has spent all his life working for the betterment of the Dalits, constantly made people realise the values of Baba Saheb’s social justice, was charged for filling the lacunae between the Marathas and the Dalits with violence at the Bhima Koregaon war memorial to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the 1818 Battle of Bhima Koregaon, on 1st January 2018. The Few more facts about him which is all the substance this analogy holds is that Anand Teltumbde is an academician, a columnist who has called out the Prime Minister’s divisive politics pertaining to social and communal harmony, and especially charging young men and women, time and again of being a threat to our country. These allegations have proved to be nothing but a bluff. The analogy ends here.
While Pratap Bhanu Mehta is considered a ‘Political Liability,’ and as a course of action he resigns, Anand Teltumbde has been charged with the draconian, grossly unconstitutional Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) which gives the state the power to brand any individual as a terrorist and make it almost impossible for the person to get bail under the charge; being labelled a maoist for dissenting against the government. Here is the difference. When, during the Simon Commission and the Round table conference between 1928-1930, Baba Saheb had asked the prison authorities in Bengal jail about the proportion of sects of people kept in the jail. He was told that more than any sect, the dalits were allegedly made to languish in jail and branded as terrorists under absolutely preposterous charges. To say that this isn’t true today would be underplaying with the fact that caste system had never been subdued in the first place. Anand Teltumbde is surely a ‘critic’ but not a ‘riotous’ human being.
The easiest label for a Dalit india has always been a ‘maoist militant.’ In Anand Teltumbde’s case these allegations and charges seem absolutely preposterous and crafted, just like in the cases of Sudha Bhardwaj, Varavara Rao, Father Stan Swamy and many more political prisoners from the oppressed communities putrefying in jails only for working for the society and disagreeing with the semblance of the government.
The conclusion thus points towards the fact that the two incidents are a stark attack on the academic freedom of individuals in India and the government is trying to clamp down on dissenting voices, trying to settle their credence on the psychological mind space of people, and is indeed, trying to further drown the fundamental debacles of democracy. If even after incidents as such people are shrugging off the fact that we are still not another step closer to being an elected autocracy, then maybe they are not aware enough or they are willfully ignoring everything that is happening around them. Furthermore, the government’s own National Education Policy (NEP) now seems to contradict its acts of restricting free speech and dissent in the sphere of education and learning. The hypocrisy is quite evident.
This Blog Post is also available as a podcast: https://anchor.fm/snigdha-rohilla/episodes/Labeling-academicians-in-India-One-a-Political-Liability–another-a-Comrade-euhtvh