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'Total disregard of Gandhian values': nine Gujarat Vidyapeeth trustees protest, resign

Counterview Desk 

In a joint statement, the nine trustees who had opposed the selection of Gujarat governor Acharya Devvrat as the 12th Chancellor of the 102-year-old Gujarat Vidyapith, founded by Mahatma Gandhi, have said, they have “collectively resolved not to go along with the present management of the institution” in view of “crass political pressure” being brought in for his appointment.
Resigning as members of the Board of Trustees, Narsihbhai Hathila, Dr Sudarshan Iyangar, Dr Anamik Shah, Dr Mandaben Parikh, Uttambhai Parmar, Chaitanya Bhatt, Neetaben Hardikar,Michael Mazgaonkar and Kapil Shah said in a statement addressed to Acharya Devvrat, the appointment was made in “total disregard of Gandhi’s values, methods and practices.”
Wondering whether Gandhian values have been abandoned, they said, “Gandhi’s philosophy cannot be reduced to mere natural farming, cattle breeding or nature cure. Those are its programmes. The real essence lies in the courage to say ‘No sir' in pursuit of truth and non-violence, doing one’s utmost to uphold the value of equal respect to all religions, preservation of democratic values, civil liberties, institutional autonomy and against kowtowing to Government diktats.”

Text:

The fast paced events unfolding at Gujarat Vidyapith pose a major challenge to its ethos and functioning. Gandhiji established Gujarat Vidyapith as a Educational Institution with National character in 1920. Its express purpose was to train students to join the national struggle against foreign rule, emancipate people not only from the British yoke but to promote the inclusive values of India’s culture and traditions. The educational philosophy and practice that Gujarat Vidyapith espoused adhered to the principles of Gandhi’s Nai Talim, i.e., focus not just on reading, writing and formal classroom education but training the faculties of the heart, mind and hands. The larger goal was education of a cadre of constructive workers for national reconstruction via gram-swaraj.
The original constitution that Gandhiji formulated for Gujarat Vidyapith stipulated that it would not accept government grants. However, to bring its courses into alignment with officially recognised courses Vidyapith acceded to UGC rules in 1963 on condition that Government would not interfere with its autonomy. Vidyapith is now completely dependent on Government grants, yet it strives to operate in consonance with the principles laid down by Gandhi and his co-founders. Today, its graduates receive better value education than many other universities. Its gram shilpis – Rural Activists live and work in far flung areas of the State. Gujarat Vidyapith, therefore, has a unique identity. Given these characteristics, society-at-large overlooks its shortcomings and erosion of certain values.
The role of State has changed decisively in the last five years. It has been subjected to bureaucratic heavy-handedness, where Vidyapith that was established with a special purpose is treated at par with other private universities and narrowly defined rules imposed without any dialogue. The Trustees recognise that there may have been lacunae in managing the affairs of Vidyapith, and in the absence of clear rules or because of interpretation of rules stringent norms connected with Government grants may not always have been followed, out of turn promotions given etc. The current administration has tried its best to dialogue and explain to the concerned authorities that insensitively reversing mistakes made by past administrations would have a detrimental effect on staff livelihoods and well being. Over 150 letters written by Vidyapith to concerned authorities have remained unacknowledged. What is more, the issue of Vice Chancellor’s appointment was raked up, and the threat of withdrawal of Vidyapith’s deemed university status and withholding of grants. This, in our view, was patently malicious, unfair and without any sense of proportion.
We are told that unreasonable demands relating to Chancellor’s appointment were made by certain officials. These ranged from ‘the appointee must not be an adherent of a certain religion’, ‘he must not be opposed to a certain individual’, to later a ministers and party people stating that, ‘Vidyapith’s representations will be heard only if Mr X is appointed as a Chancellor’. There can never be concrete evidence of such pressures. Thus were the terms of the oral bargain outlined to undermine the institution’s autonomy. That was unprecedented in its 102-year history. As a result a issue as important as appointment of the Chancellor was rushed through, not by consensus but by a badly fractured vote. That was unprecedented as well as completely avoidable.
The Government’s action runs counter to the goal and purpose of Gujarat Vidyapith and is inimical to the existence of the University. It is not only tantamount to unethical use of power but is anti-democratic and a disgrace to any Government in a free society. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms.
Any healthy democracy can only be rooted in principled public policy. Through this action the Government has made clear its intention of taking over big, small, strong and weak Gandhian institutions and thereby erase and alter history.
It is absolutely imperative that all educational institutions -- even if they receive Government grants- remain independent and insulated from the rough and tumble of power and politics. They cannot be forced to either toe the official line or appoint individual’s under pressure from the powers-that-be. Acting as Government’s amplifier would be the death knell of its meaningful role in society. It must necessarily remain free from domination by a political party or religious dispensation. Vidyapith took firm steps in that direction when the late Narayan Desai became its Chancellor in 2007. This episode tries to undo what was initiated by Narayanbhai.
Acharya Devvrat
The Trustees and Staff who were hand-in-glove with this move have brought Vidyapith to great disrepute on the world stage. They have a lot to answer for. Have they abandoned Gandhian values? Gandhi’s philosophy cannot be reduced to mere natural farming, cattle breeding or nature cure. Those are its programmes. The real essence lies in the courage to say “No sir” in pursuit of truth and non-violence, doing one’s utmost to uphold the value of equal respect to all religions, preservation of democratic values, civil liberties, institutional autonomy and against kowtowing to Government diktats. Gandhi is incomplete without these. We trust that they will atone for the mistake they made whether out of fear, temptation or as a part of deal. It is not as if the Trustees are unconcerned about Staff well being. Vidyapith Trust has deployed its own funds to pay their salaries without break despite the Government not fulfilling it’s liabilities which amounts in crores of rupees. This has been the plight for over three years. And, it would be foolhardy to harbour the illusion that all will be well, now that the Government has taken over Vidyapith.
We humbly appeal to the newly selected Chancellor, that as you would be aware of the circumstances of your selection. It was neither spontaneous nor the unanimous decision of the Board of Trustees. It was under crass political pressure. It was in total disregard of Gandhi’s values, methods and practices. How can that do credit to your honour and dignity?
Your Excellency, to uphold the fundamental values of democracy and transparent autonomous decision-making you have the opportunity to set an example by declining to take charge as Chancellor. Our humble request to you is an act of collective conscience after considered and considerable deliberation. We, of course, do not have anything against your person.
We clearly believe that the decision to select the new person as a Chancellor was taken in undue haste, under political pressure, out of fear and intimidation, in total disregarding of due process, avoiding need for dialogue as well as without considering other possible names. We believe that the impugned decision was made to save the body of the institution, divorced from its soul, and all values and principles were sacrificed at the alter of expediency. Alas, after the decision was taken, we requested the management to let things settle down, and not rush with the invitation to the selected person. Understandably, more pressure may have been brought to bear, and that is what has resulted in the sequence of events. What has happened is indeed, sad, shocking, and unbecoming for an institution with such pedigree.
We pray to the almighty to guide us on this path that we stand fearless, that we do our little bit on the path shown by Gandhi. May the fourth pillar of democracy -our media- seek and report the truth with restraint. May God give the citizens the discretion between the fact and myth. May the almighty give strength to those who struggle to preserve the values of democracy. And may better sense prevail on the powers-that-be. Power does not last forever.
Under the circumstances, it is our bounden duty to non-cooperate with what seems wrong. We do this without anger, without malice towards any individual, and with the utmost humility.
In keeping with our voice of our conscience we have collectively resolved that it is now improper for us to go along with the present management of the institution. We shall therefore believe that resigning as members of the Board of Trustees will be a wiser step.

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