Political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta has told Ashoka University students that he will not withdraw his resignation as "the underlying circumstances that led to [it] will not change for the foreseeable future."
In a letter to his students in the early hours of Sunday, Prof Mehta insisted that his time with Ashoka University was a closed chapter. “[It] is not an easy decision. But it is, for me, the only honourable thing to do, consistent with my values; values I think you share. I also believe it is in the best interests of the university,” he wrote. “The underlying circumstances that led to the resignation will not change for the foreseeable future, in my case, at any rate,” he added.
He resigned earlier this week after a meeting with the University’s founders made it clear his association with the institution could be considered a “political liability”. Fellow professor and former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian resigned in solidarity two days later, saying the University could “no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom.”
On Saturday, the student union announced a two day boycott of classes from Monday to demand that the university offer Prof Mehta his job back with a public acknowledgement of the pressures behind his resignation. In his letter, Prof. Mehta urged them not to press him on the matter as "your mission is larger than the fate of two Professors". Recalling his previous resignation as Ashoka’s vice chancellor two years ago, he added that he did not want to “tempt fate again”.
He appreciated the students’ protest, noting that “It was about Ashoka’s institutional integrity. But it was also about the dark and ominous shadows that loom over India democracy.” He also urged the students to work with the trustees and faculty “to secure the institutional autonomy and freedom Ashoka needs”.
Asserting that “the dark shadows of authoritarianism are also hovering over us, putting us all in often uncomfortable and sometimes dishonourable positions”, he noted that it would not be enough to lament the looming darkness, and expressed confidence that his students would shine a light instead.
Recalling the texts of philosophy and political science he had taught them through the year, Prof. Mehta added, “But what you taught us is something more valuable: that liberal values are more about having a character than they are about professing a creed.”