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Politics of patronage

The retirement of psephologist Yogendra Yadav from the University Grants Commission (UGC) has had its desired coverage in the media. However, I doubt if it had any impact on the teaching fraternity and public at large. In fact Yadav’s ejection failed to garner sympathy commensurate with the high pitch his friends in media created. Why despite such trumpeting, Yadav failed to get sympathy specially from the university fraternity?

The answer lies in the fact that the majority in the academic fraternity had felt wronged when he was put on every possible body under the Ministry of Human Resource Development by his benefactor then HRD Minister Kapil Sibal. What are the qualifications for becoming a member of the UGC? While the University Grants Commission Act of 1956 lays down definite stipulations for the appointment of the members a scope for government patronage is created under Chapter II, Clause 5, Section C, Sub Section i, ii and iii. It states that such persons could be appointed as members of the UGC, ‘Who have knowledge of, or experience in, agriculture, commerce, forestry or industry; who are members of the engineering, legal, medical or any other learned profession; or who are vice-chancellors of universities or who, not being teachers of universities, are in the opinion of the central government, educationists of repute or have obtained high academic distinctions.’

While I do not have definite information under what criteria but my rudimentary research makes me believe that Yadav was appointed on the board under this sub-section allowing patronage to people ‘who are members of ... any other learned profession.’ The chances of Yadav making it to the commission under the category, ‘who, not being teachers of universities, are in the opinion of the central government, educationists of repute or have obtained high academic distinctions,’ is unlikely because he has nothing to show in support of high academic distinction, even a PhD degree.
Then what made his nomination possible? Yadav has been a knight in shining armour for the Congress party waging a battle on its behalf against the right of the centre forces through is numerous unscientific studies of election results and opinion polls predicting demise of the Bharatiya Janata Party at the centre and in the states. His predictions about the fate of Narendra Modi during the 2007 state assembly polls predictably came wrong. However, there is no denying the fact that his ability to convincingly anchor the election shows made him a darling with the media houses. Once he evolved himself as media personality, he succinctly used the clout to promote himself as ‘an academician of eminence.’ In the intellectual battle which the Congress and its cohorts in the various communist parties and its affiliates waged with the right wingers, Yadav definitely emerged as the most malleable cheer leader. His make-up fitted the demands and framework of the Marxists, the Socialists and their patrons in the Congress. No wonder that the HRD Ministry under Kapil Sibal decided to put him on various important committees deciding on the curriculum, functioning and expansion of both the school and higher education. One wonders, how could a person who is only known for his ability to peddle his fascinations about politics as scientific study could make to these committees and panels without the government patronage.

Yadav by his own admission in the reply to the show-cause notice served on him by the government, mentioned that he decided to resign from  advisory  bodies of  Department of School Education and Literacy  through a written  communication, he preferred the oral  mode of communication while  thinking about  the  prestigious UGC membership. It is not surprising that he decided to consult the personal secretary to then HRD minister orally for UGC membership. It betrays his access and patronage received from the office of Kapil Sibal.

In fact the government order retiring Yadav from the commission makes a very apt reference to
S Radhakrishnan Commission report which finally led to the setting-up of the UGC. The report said, ‘In a democratic country, the decision of how much public money can be spent on universities can be made, and ought to be made, only by the government... But once that decision is made, the detailed allocation of the money must be left  to an expert  body,  not  merely  non-political but as rigidly protected  from political or personal lobbying and pressure as the Constitution  of the country can make them.’ Why a learned man like Yadav, who has vowed to clean public life, should feel bitter if the government decided to correct its position by upholding the ideals set by none less than Radhakrishnan ‘to rigidly protect members from political or personal lobbying.’ If Yadav, by his own admission, was a member of a political party even at the time of joining the UGC, his duty did not end by just informing the government but should have declined the offer in the first place.
Unfortunately the quixotic Indian media today fails to sift truth from smooth talk. It fails to take the initiative to examine a matter in detail. Mahatma rightly said of the harm which media was bringing on it by getting carried away by its over-zealous approach. Writing in Harijan on 18 February 1939, he said, ‘Newspapers (televisions did not exist then) which indulge in untruth or exaggeration harm the cause they profess to espouse.’

Media mandarins would have done better by examining the matter of Yogendra Yadav with objectivity rather than projecting it as the case of a wronged friend. A friend of media cannot be above scrutiny.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is
Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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