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“Ashoka University founders have bartered away its soul”: Raghuram Rajan on Prof Mehta’s exit

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: Condemning resignation of scholar and commentator, professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta under alleged “political pressure from Ashoka University” , former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan on Saturday said that free speech is the soul of a great university, and by compromising on it, the founders of the varsity have bartered away its soul.

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Describing prof. Mehta’s exit from the university earlier this week as “a sad development for India”, Rajan wrote in a post on LinkedIn, “Ashoka’s founders should have realised that their mission was indeed not to take political sides but to continue to protect the right of people like Pratap Bhanu Mehta to speak, for in doing so, they were enabling Ashoka to make its greatest contribution to India’s wellbeing –– identifying what is wrong and encouraging us all to remedy it.”

Rajan also referred to the departure of Arvind Subramanian, Mehta’s colleague and former chief economic advisor (CEA) in the Modi government, saying both his and Mehta’s resignation letters suggest the founders of the university, which “till this week was considered India’s likely competitor to Cambridge, Harvard ad Oxford in coming decades”, have succumbed to outside pressure to get rid of a troublesome critic.

“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. It is not that he has much sympathy for the opposition either,” Rajan said in a statement.

In the opinion of India’s one of the eminent economists, Mr Rajan, Mehta is an equal opportunity critic just as how a true academic should be. “He is, and I hope will continue to be, one of the intellectual leaders of liberalism in India.”

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Mehta had said in his resignation letter that the founders made it “abundantly clear” his association with the institution was a “political liability”. Calling the exit “ominously disturbing”, for academic freedom, Subramanian had also tendered his resignation.

The recent developments had led to student protests on campus; the faculty issuing a statement calling for Mehta’s return; and over 170 academicians from international universities, including Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, and Cambridge, coming out in Mehta’s support.

So far, reports of at least two more faculty members to be on the verge of quitting are making rounds.

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