Free speech in India suffered 'grievous blow', says Rajan on Ashoka Univ developments

Free speech in India suffered grievous blow, says Rajan on Ashoka Univ developments

New Delhi: Eminent economist Raghuram Rajan has said free speech suffered a "grievous blow" in India with the resignations of Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian from the Ashoka University and that the varsity's founders have bartered away its soul.

Earlier this week, the Sonipat-based Ashoka University –a leading varsity that offers courses in liberal arts and sciences –found itself at the centre of a controversy after political commentator Mehta and economist Subramanian resigned.

In a Linkedin post, former RBI governor Rajan said that free speech has suffered a "grievous blow" in India this week as professor Mehta, one of India's finest political scientists, resigned from the Ashoka University.

"The reality is that professor Mehta is a thorn in the side of the establishment. He is no ordinary thorn because he skewers those in government and in high offices like the Supreme Court with vivid prose and thought-provoking arguments," he said.

On the recent developments at the varsity, Rajan –who is a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business –said, "Free speech is the soul of a great university. By compromising on it, the founders have bartered away its soul."

He further said, "And if you show a willingness to barter your soul, is there any chance the pressures will go away? This is indeed a sad development for India," Rajan said.

Mehta's exit from the varsity was followed by the resignation of professor Subramanian, also a former chief economic advisor of the Narendra Modi government.

Rajan also quoted a few lines from Subramanian's resignation letter which said, "That even Ashoka with its private status and backing by private capital can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom is ominously disturbing.

"Above all, that the University's commitment to fight for and sustain the Ashoka vision is now open to question makes it difficult for me to continue being part of Ashoka."

Rajan noted that if Ashoka's founders believe "they have compromised with the powers that be in the greater interests of the university, they are wrong".

According to Rajan, it is not that Mehta has much sympathy for the opposition either. "As a true academic, he is an equal opportunity critic. He is, and I hope will continue to be, one of the intellectual leaders of liberalism in India," the former RBI governor said.

Meanwhile, over 150 academicians from prestigious universities across the globe like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, London School of Economics and MIT, have written an open letter to trustees of Ashoka University, expressing distress over Pratap Bhanu Mehta's resignation from the varsity under "political pressure".

The open letter to the trustees of Ashoka University stated that Mehta became a target for his writings .

"We are distressed to learn of Pratap Bhanu Mehta's resignation under political pressure from Ashoka University. A prominent critic of the current Indian government and defender of academic freedom, he had become a target for his writings. It seems that Ashoka's Trustees, who should have treated defending him as their institutional duty, instead all but forced his resignation," the letter read.

The signatories to the letter include academicians from the New York University, University of Oxford, Stanford University, Princeton University, Cambridge University, University of Pennsylvania and University of California, among others.

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