Mainstream, VOL LIV No 23 New Delhi May 28, 2016
A Judgement Affirming Constitutional Values
Sunday 29 May 2016, by
The judgement from the Allahabad High Court on April 23, 2016, quashing my termination order from the Indian Institute of Technology at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi has come as a big relief for me because it essentially is a vindication of my thought and action. Moreover, without taking the name of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh or the majoritarian Hindutva ideology and the Vice Chancellor, Professor Girish Chandra Tripathi, it has spared no words in their criticism.
The judgement is foremost and most importantly a defence of ‘freedom of speech and expression’. It says that irrespective of whether a view is correct or not there is freedom in this country to express your views as a legitimate and constitutional right which cannot be held to ransom by an intolerant group. Thus in the debate on tolerance-intolerance, which made headlines a while back, the judgement clearly indicates that stifling different opinion is being intolerant. In this context the Court has delivered a master-stroke by quoting the famous saying: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.’ Thus the whole atmosphere of terror manufactured, where not action but words became the basis for branding anybody anti-national, who was liable for attack even putting his/her life at risk, has been dismantled by this argument. One hopes that some sense will prevail now over the people identifying themselves with the aggressive Hindutva ideology.
In response to the accusation against me that my teaching was against national interest and could disturb communal harmony as well as encourage students to take law into their hands on campus, the Court clearly says that fair criticism of government policies cannot be a ground for restricting the freedom of speech and expression. It says that situations may arise where responsible persons may feel it is their duty to criticise and invite people to come for discussion, which would not constitute misconduct. The Court has clearly upheld the right to dissent which is a resounding assertion of democracy.
Quite remarkably, the founder of the BHU, Madan Mohan Malaviya, even though he belonged to the Hindu Mahasabha, said, ‘India is not a country of Hindus only. It is country of Muslims, the Christians and the Parsees too. The country can gain strength and develop itself only when people of different communities in India live in mutual goodwill and harmony.’ The Court has very thoughtfully pulled out this quote of the Mahamana to counter the attempts by people associated with the Hindutva ideology to dominate the country and to relegate everybody else to either inferior position or worse put them in the category of anti-national. It also wants to convey that the attempts to create a communal divide in the minds of people will weaken the country just like it did when physical partition took place 69 years back. The idea that Hindutva can grow at the expense of others has clearly been rejected by Malaviya. The RSS may like to think that Malaviya belonged to their genre, but his above-mentioned quote shows that he was in a different class. Mentioning this particular quote of Malaviya also unequivocally affirms the concept of secularism in our Constitution by the Court, which has been the basis for the communal harmony in our country for long but was under attack by the Right-wing for some time. One hopes that the notion of secularism would not be put to test time and again by the Right-wing as it is much older than the history of democratic India.
Out of respect for the Mahamana’s feelings the University authorities should think about constructing other religious places on the campus in addition to the magnificent Vishwanath temple, which stands in the centre, so that people following other religions would also have a chance to pray inside the campus. Right now non-Hindus have to go outside the campus to offer their religious prayers.
The judgement also says, in criticism of the VC and his friends associated with the RSS in important administrative positions, that academic administrators should remain politically neutral when taking decisions about academic or administrative matters. The Dean of Faculty Affairs, Professor Dhananjay Pandey, got the IIT (BHU) conduct rules sent to me on October 15, 2015 through the Assistant Registrar and, by a remarkable coincidence, on the same date a student of Political Science, Avinash Pandey, filed a complaint against me with the VC. The conspiracy to terminate my contract was hatched by persons associated with the RSS in which the complainant and administrators joined hands. The Court categorically says that the decision to terminate my contract was stigmatic and punitive in nature and not a simplicitor. It says: ‘Heavy words such as commission of cyber crime and acting against national interest have been loosely used. All these allegations are serious in nature and such allegations have serious aspersions on the conduct and character of an incumbent and the way and manner in which the decision in question has been taken as against him ex-parte cannot be approved by us.’
The decision has come as a relief not only to me but to also a lot of my friends who felt stifled in the present atmosphere. We now know that democracy has not disappeared from the country or the campuses completely.
I now have the dubious distinction of joining two of my illustrious relatives, Professor of Indology at BHU, Raj Bali Pandey, my mother’s uncle, who later became the VC at Jabalpur University, and the Professor of Chemical Engineering, Gopal Tripathi, the first Director of the Institute of Technology, before it became an IIT at BHU, and the former’s cousin, who too were expelled by the University in 1960 along with several other Professors like Hazari Prasad Dwivedi. Acharya Narendra Dev, the famous Buddhist scholar who served as the VC for three years and was also the first President of the Socialist Party, had to leave the BHU not under very pleasant circumstances.
[Note: In spite of the fantastic above mentioned order, the VC has not let me rejoin BHU yet.—S.P.]
Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey was recently sacked this year from the IIT-BHU where he was a Visiting Professor on the charge of being a “Naxalite” engaging in “anti-national” activities. He was elected along with Prof Keshav Jadhav the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India) at its founding conference at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.