Skip to main content

'Little reason' to agonize over Ashoka Varsity, Pratap Bhanu Mehta's resignation

By Aviral Anand* 

A certain section of the Indian intelligentsia is very perturbed at the recent events at Ashoka University. The alarm seems chiefly about the resignation of one of its star faculty, Pratap Bhanu Mehta.
It is almost laughable this should have elicited the horror that it seems to have, given that Ashoka is a private university with a good number of businessperson-types among its founders. And the fact that PB Mehta has always been a sedate intellectual, his critiques quite mainstream and even good natured, most often.
At a time when public universities in India are contested ideological spaces and under constant pressure from various forces to alter ideological direction to the right, it is hardly surprising that Ashoka took some political heat also for Mehta's occasional transgressions.
But beyond that, one must stop lavishing so much attention on Ashoka as some kind of shining example in the academic space, even with regards to its much-touted claim to focus on the liberal arts. It has been and remains a space that only perpetuates a certain exclusiveness. For undergraduates, Ashoka wants you to drop a cool 10 lakh or thereabouts per year for the privilege of its special sauce. As a point of comparison, the fees for Delhi University range on the upper end from around Rs 40,000 (St Stephen's) to Rs 4-5,000 at the lower end at various colleges (for select courses).
It is probably worth mentioning that Delhi University saw a record number of applicants (close to 6 lakh) for its UG courses in 2020. It goes without saying that the public universities in India still take a bulk of the load of educating India's aspiring students. An Ministry of Human Resource Development list counted mostly public universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University and Banaras Hindu University among the top 10. Even the much-maligned Jamia Millia Islamia came in at number 10. As an aside, in an internal assessment survey, Jamia scored the #1 spot among all central universities!
It goes without saying that a lot of solid academic work has been, and continues to be done at public universities. Liberal arts departments at several top Indian public universities boast of highly competent faculty and produce fine scholars. Two of India's highly regarded public intellectuals, in the English-language space, Ashis Nandy and Ram Guha, are products of Indian universities. 
Guha's glowing forward to a recent book on the Chipko movement by Shekhar Pathak, a Kumaon University professor, gives one a sense of the high level of research work possible even in Indian universities. Not to mention non-English, Indian-language academic spaces and the contributions of the likes of the late Basava-scholar, MM Kalburgi.
For undergraduates Ashoka charges a cool Rs 10 lakh, as against Delhi Varsity colleges' Rs 40,000 (Stephen's) to Rs 4-5,000 at the lower end
Given the affordability, intake capacities and the acceptable level of competence of these public universities in India, there is a need to strengthen them in every way possible. Even in the USA, the land of world-renowned private universities like Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford and Yale, public universities are much sought after and maintain excellent standards. The "UC" and "UT" network -- the various University of California and University of Texas institutions -- are highly prized and valued.
The Ashokas etc. are meant to be India-to-the-West-pipeline, educationally speaking -- for the privileged. A good number of its students, especially undergraduates, have clear plans to move on to schools in the west. Instead of jostling for an undergraduate degree in a public university in India, with its myriad archaic hurdles such as multiple cut-off percentages etc., they choose to buy a ticket to a pricey private university, hob-nob with professors from top universities around the world, and then armed with recommendations from them, head on over to the west.
In this connection, it might be relevant to mention that a "Young Fellow" at Ashoka chose to write a piece titled, "Ashoka University- Of the elite, for the elite, by the elite." As the piece observes, "Many of the liberal professors at Ashoka criticize the BJP for their exclusive nationalism, without acknowledging the exclusive education the university perpetrates. I always wondered how professors of such high esteem agreed to teach at the university."
This sentiment seems to sum up much of the contradictions inherent in various institutions, especially private educational institutions. When government run educational institutions are known to further various political agendas and toe the ruling party's line, what can one expect of institutions that count among their "founders," fund managers, investment bankers and other flavors of business people?
As a recent piece on the pedagogical priorities of one of the top universities in the world notes, "It is sometimes said that Harvard is really a hedge fund that happens to maintain an educational wing." It is probably not very different at private institutions like Ashoka.
---
*Writer based in Delhi NCR

Comments

Does-not-matter said…
Ashoka University is rich people's JNU.

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

Upholding labour rights, Nehruvian scientific temper, Rajni Patel opposed Emergency

By Harsh Thakor*  Rajni Patel, who died 40 years ago, whatever his flaws, had one great quality: his human touch to offer selfless service and ability to galvanise or influence human beings from all walks of life. Few people would ever go out of the way to help someone or serve as selflessly without aim of personal gain. Rajni championed Nehruvian secular ideas and scientific temper. As a master in public relations he revealed utmost humility. As a barrister, he never appeared against the trade unions or workers. A Fabien Socialist he opposed liberal capitalism and radical socialism. Unlike most lawyers, he did not succumb to the lure of amassing wealth. Rajni was born in Sirsa, in Gujarat, on the very day Gandhi set foot on Indian soil, on 9th January, 1915. He gained his baptism through one of Gandhi's speeches calling for the boycott of foreign goods, which was the virtual turning point of his life. Rajni toed Gandhi to organise boycott of foreign goods. Rajni was able to cros

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

Vadodara violence: Fine Arts Faculty alumni raise fingers at Varsity's political appointee

Hasmukh Vaghela with PM Counterview Desk  In a statement, alumni of the Faculty of Fine Arts (FoFA), Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Baroda, Gujarat, referring to the “violence” by right-wing groups for displaying “objectionable” paintings that “hurt religious sentiments” at the one of India’s top fine arts institute May 5, have taken strong exception to “the assault and rustication” of one of the students, and lack of action taken against those who “violated” the institution and committed the act. Floated as an online petition seeking wider support, the FoFA alumni, in their statement, addressed to the vice chancellor, MSU, said, there should be “thorough” investigation in the whole incident and “immediate action” should be taken against syndicate member Hasmukh Vaghela, MSU, who sparked the assault, and “other co-conspirators” for breaching “university code of conduct and unlawful activities committed in broad daylight”. While the alumni statement doesn't say so, Vaghela

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Examples of support to Hindu temples, scriptures, saints by 'Muslim' rulers galore

Siya Ram coin issued by Akbar By Bharat Dogra* At a time when the country as well as the world are passing through very difficult times leading to more urgent need for strengthening national unity for meeting several big challenges ahead, unfortunately disputes relating to religious places have been allowed to raise their ugly head once again. It is well-realized by now by many people that it is not historical facts but narrow considerations of political gain and spreading of fanatic ideas of intolerance which are behind such mischief, but due to the increasing threat of mob violence and patronage available at higher levels to groups spreading intolerance many people are reluctant to openly and fearlessly express their views. Hence there is urgent need for broad-based peace committees with wider social support to spread the message of communal harmony and to appeal against the dangers of spreading false messages regarding places of worship which can ultimate

Whither climate goal? Increasing reliance on coal 'likely to worsen' India's power crisis

By Shankar Sharma*  Recent news articles, How to shock-proof India’s power sector and Power minister points finger at states for worsening electricity crisis , have highlighted a few current problems for the ongoing power sector issues as in April 2022. However, there is a lot more to it than a few temporary solutions as indicated in the articles. It should also be emphasised that it is techno-economically impossible to completely shock-proof a highly complex and geographically wide-spread vast power network, such as the one in India, which is only getting more and more complex with the passage of each year due to some irrational policies/ practices in the sector. A business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, wherein more and more of conventional technology power plants, including coal power plants, will be added in the near future, will also necessitate the increased complexity in the integrated national grid, and as a result the instances of power shortage/ disruptions can only escalate for

A former Modi ally, Prashant Kishor wanted to enter Congress 'on contract, as trader'

By Anand Sahay*  The Congress Party and the election campaigns specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Kishor to join the party. News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Kishor at all. He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammeled control over party communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew. It is clear he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key personae in G-23. They