Arvind Subramanian resigns from Ashoka University after P.B. Mehta’s exit

Dr. Subramanian’s exit follows P.B. Mehta’s resignation; says varsity can no longer provide space for academic freedom.

Updated - March 18, 2021 11:11 pm IST

Published - March 18, 2021 12:13 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Arvind Subramanian.

Arvind Subramanian.

Former Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) Arvind Subramanian resigned from Ashoka University on Thursday, days after noted columnist and political commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s exit.

In his resignation letter, Dr. Subramanian, said he had been “devastated” by “the circumstances involving the ‘resignation’ of Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta” two days earlier.

‘Troubling feeling’

“That someone of such integrity and eminence, who embodied the vision underlying Ashoka, felt compelled to leave is troubling,” he wrote. “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,” he added.

Professor Mehta’s letter provides insight into the reasons behind his departure.

“After a meeting with the university’s founders it has become abundantly clear to me that my association with the university may be considered a political liability. My public writing in support of a politics that tries to honour constitutional values of freedom and equal respect for all citizens, is perceived to carry risks for the university. In the interests of the university, I resign,” he wrote to University Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar.

He added that “a liberal university will need a liberal political and social context to flourish” and expressed hope that the university would play a role in securing that environment.

“In light of the prevailing atmosphere, the founders and the administration will require renewed commitment to the values of Ashoka, and new courage to secure Ashoka’s freedom,” he wrote.

In a virtual town hall meeting attended by over a thousand students, faculty and alumni on Thursday evening, Dr. Sarkar said she was not part of the conversations between the university’s founders and Prof. Mehta before his resignation.

‘Still a safe space’

“The trustees have said they did not ask him to resign,” she said, adding that she believed the university remained a “safe space”. She added that she had asked Prof Mehta to rescind his resignation on Thursday morning, but he would not do so.

Ashish Dhawan, chairperson of Ashoka’s Board of Trustees, did not respond to The Hindu’s request for comment.

Earlier, in a solidarity statement, Ashoka Faculty said they were troubled by the “plausible” scenario that Prof. Mehta’s resignation was a direct consequence of his role as a public intellectual and critic of the government.

Chilling precedent

Even more troubling is the possibility that our university may have acceded to pressure to remove Professor Mehta or to request, and accept, his resignation,” said the faculty statement, adding that it would “set a chilling precedent for future removals of faculty, curtailing our sense of who we are as researchers and teachers.”

In a report, Ashoka’s student newspaper, The Edict , quoted a source claiming that Ashoka’s founders endorsed the resignation, “motivated by an understanding that if Prof. Mehta resigned, the university’s efforts to acquire a new plot of land to expand the campus would get much smoother. Additionally, formal recognition for the fourth-year postgraduate diploma, Ashoka Scholars’ Programme, was also hinted at being part of the deal.”

V-C refutes charges

However, during the town hall meeting, Dr. Sarkar refuted these allegations, saying that the university had already acquired the land several years ago, and that permissions for the four-year programme were also under way.

During the meeting, students demanded an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Prof. Mehta’s ouster, as well as answers from the founders.

“Not my Ashoka,” they chanted, at the end of the fraught two-hour discussion.

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