Xavier's College Principal letter criticising Modi triggers storm

A letter addressed to students by Father Frazer Mascarenhas, principal of St Xavier's College, 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 spokesperson 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 indicators in Gujarat, including education and rights of the 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.

The letter also pointed fingers at the UPA government's track record on environmental clearances. The letter mentioned the "worsening situation of environmental degradation and depletion".

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." Former Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee, while saying that 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 aplolitical. It shouldn't dabble in politics.

At St Xavier's College, many students supported their principal. TYBA student Rujuta Sabnis said that there was nothing wrong in what he had done. “It's good that he's making sure we're getting the right information. Anyway, everything he has said is true,” she said.

However, some others were not impressed. “While I love Father Mascarenhas mostly and what he teaches us, I feel this is a way to influence students by using his authority. I am not a first-time voter but there are many in my college who are. The letter does not make a difference to me as I have already made up my mind but it could influence many others,” said an MSc student who did not want her identity to be disclosed.

In the Twitter world, #xaviers was trending for the better part of the day. Ravindra Vasisht whose Twitter bio says he is head of a multinational company reacted to the controversy. “The principal of #xaviers can go stand in cuffe parade or chowpathy beach & voice his opinions as an individual. Not issue circulars,” he tweeted.

Principals from other colleges also had divergent views. St Andrew’s College principal Marie Fernandes said that students always look to professors and principals for guidance. “What is wrong if he did that? If he was an ordinary person, this statement wouldn’t have caused such a furore,” she said.

While Dinesh Panjwani, principal of National College, said that a principal had the right to air her or his views, he said “personal political views could be avoided just before the election.”

This is not the first time Father Frazer 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'. This was before Thackeray's official launch as youth wing leader of the Shiv Sena. In the past, he hosted a convention of anti-Jaitapur activists on the college campus. He had also organised lectures by activists such as Teesta Setalvad, Binayak Sen and Shailesh Gandhi.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2020 3:21:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/loksabha2014/west/xaviers-college-principal-letter-criticising-modi-triggers-storm/article5940394.ece

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