A letter addressed to students by Father Frazer Mascarenhas, Principal of St Xavier’s College here, criticising the Gujarat model of development triggered a storm with strong reactions coming in from across the spectrum. The BJP filed a complaint on Wednesday with the Election Commission against him saying that the letter, which was published on the college website, violated the model code of conduct because the college is government-aided.

“He misused his position as Principal. We are ready to engage with the students in an open debate. But the Principal should have withheld his views until such a debate,” said BJP Mumbai president Ashish Shelar.

Congress leaders supported the Principal with party spokesman Shashi Tharoor tweeting that the letter was “impressive and thoughtful.” MP Milind Deora tweeted: “Leaders, college principals, or otherwise, voicing their opinion is free speech. Baseless allegations against them is defamation.”

In his letter which does not directly name any individual or political party, Father Mascarenhas urged students to “choose well” and exercise a “reasoned choice of individuals and political parties who promise to work for a real quality of life.”

The letter speaks about the poor human development index indicators in Gujarat, including education and rights of tribals. “So what lessons does a reflection on the approaching elections teach us? The prospect of an alliance of corporate capital and communal forces coming to power constitutes a real threat to the future of our secular democracy,” his letter read.

Prominent alumni from St Xavier’s college also joined the debate. Theatre personality Alyque Padamse said: “This is a democracy. People have a right to air their views.” The former Attorney-General, Soli Sorabjee, while saying that Father Mascarenhas had not misused his position as Principal, he should have refrained from making a public statement. “St Xavier’s College has been an institution which has been apolitical. It shouldn’t dabble in politics.”

“I am surprised that my statement has been objected to in this manner,” said Father Mascarenhas. “I haven’t targeted any political party. I was just engaging my students on issues of development and good governance. I do not change my stance.”

This is not the first time Father Mascarenhas has been vocal about issues. In 2010, he had come down heavily on his student Aditya Thackeray after he opposed Rohinton Mistry’s book Such a Long Journey.