Vice chancellors ko gussa kyoon aata hai?

Rahul Gandhi’s candid remarks on RSS influence in academic appointments expose a troubling truth about India’s educational system.

Published : May 21, 2024 13:23 IST - 7 MINS READ

PM Modi with Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Yogesh Singh (centre) at a ceremony on June 29, 2023. Yogesh Singh is one of the 181 academicians who have signed the letter criticising Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on RSS’ influence on the VCs.

PM Modi with Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Yogesh Singh (centre) at a ceremony on June 29, 2023. Yogesh Singh is one of the 181 academicians who have signed the letter criticising Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on RSS’ influence on the VCs. | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

It was amusing to learn that university vice chancellors (VCs) and heads of other educational institutions in the country, 181 in number to be precise, are “angry” with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Rahul had said in a meeting that VCs and heads of educational institutions are nowadays selected not for their academic achievement or leadership ability but because of their affiliation with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). These academic leaders are now bristling, asking how Rahul Gandhi can question their credentials. They have even asked for action, whatever that may be, to be taken against Rahul Gandhi for his blasphemy.

Among those who have signed this statement are those who asserted just a few days ago that they were proud Sanghis. Responding to the allegation of being “saffron”, one of them told a newspaper reporter, “If doing anything for the country is saffronisation, then we are up for it. But we will not tolerate any anti-India campaign in whichever form.” According to the newspaper report, the academic went on to say, “This is a country of one particular people; this is our nation, we have to build this nation. You can differ or you may have a different thought process, to which there are no issues; we can discuss and debate on such subjects. But the point here is we will not tolerate any indiscipline.” (emphasis added.)

One recognises this language, this vocabulary: Where an opinion that is different or opposed to the views of “one particular people” automatically becomes “anti-India” and turns into an act of “indiscipline”. The question is, who decides what is anti-India?

What Rahul Gandhi said is an open secret in the academic world. We have seen many VCs flaunting their relationship with the RSS; there is no benefit in hiding it today. We recently saw a VC whose first action after appointment was to seek the blessings of a prominent RSS leader, who is an accused in a terrorism case, and then circulate the photographs widely. Another VC, while still in office, established a relationship with the Bharatiya Janata Party, the political wing of the RSS, and was made a member of the Legislative Council of Uttar Pradesh.

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In response to Rahul Gandhi, these academic heads should not have protested but, on the contrary, asserted that they saw nothing wrong in their links with the RSS and were proud of it.

Intersection of politics and education 

Of at least some of these appointees one can say that they believe their selection was not because of their connection with the RSS but because of their proven academic leadership qualities; their affiliation or sympathies with the Sangh being only a coincidence. But even here, the question remains: would they have been selected had they not been associated with the RSS in some way? Or at least without its patronage?

Besides the post of VCs, even among aspirants for teaching positions in Delhi University or Jawaharlal Nehru University or other educational institutions, those who are not associated with the RSS or its affiliates have long given up hope of being selected. There are also those who were not earlier in the RSS but have in the last decade somehow managed an entry to further their career. There are some among them who now repent their decision. One might remember Hindi poet and writer Muktibodh’s story “Samjhauta”, in which a man has to wear a bear’s costume and fight a lion in the circus. He soon realises that the lion too is a victim of the same compulsion, and is a human being in lion’s skin.

When the BJP-led government came to power in 2014, the gentleman who held the post of VC of Delhi University was not associated with the Sangh. Later, he tried his best to convince the authorities that he could serve the RSS well while being Gandhian.

Not all VCs are the same. Some seem determined in their stint to destroy the institution over which they have been given the responsibility, to such an extent that nothing will be left in the debris to build from afterwards. JNU was demolished before our eyes. What does one say about Delhi University?

Others have a conscience. They cleverly save some part of the institute, so that when the period of crisis ends, the institute will be able to revive itself. These are people who ideologically belong to the RSS but who also know the meaning of education. Those who believe that it is right that RSS-affiliated people should also get university jobs, but that there should also be some people in every subject who can just teach. Some among these VCs are interested only in saving certain disciplines and are careless about others, but they exist.

Other VCs are performing their academic duty today by working under the radar. Some of them have done a trade-off: they keep the RSS happy by inviting its pracharaks as guests but uphold the sanctity of appointments. But they are the exceptions. It is also true that chances of survival as an academic are higher if you stay away from Delhi.

“The truth is evident. Those who have given statements threatening Rahul Gandhi with legal action know their place in the larger scheme of things. ”

What is the greatest contribution of a VC to a university? New buildings and new courses usually attract attention, but the real contribution that impacts the institution in the long run is the selection of good scholars as teachers. The tenure of a teacher is approximately 30 to 40 years. They, in turn, play a role in the selection of future teachers. They are the ones who make the curriculum, they are the ones who do research, and help conduct student research. They are responsible for knowledge creation. The leaders of the world’s best universities pay special attention to this.

Another job of the VCs is to keep alive the idea of excellence in their institutions and encourage it. They might resent what Rahul Gandhi has said, but the 181 VCs should ask themselves if they are even aware of this responsibility, leave alone fulfilling it.

What types of courses are being created? Do they raise the standards of education, or have they become repetitive sloganeering in the name of promoting Indian knowledge traditions?

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They should also ask themselves why they don’t allow discussion or debate on topics other than those approved as “nationalist” or those sponsored by the government on campus. And why are speakers invariably only RSS pracharaks or similar names?

The VC’s job is also to ensure the free expression of ideas on campus. Is the present crop of VCs doing it?

The heads of institutions that provide grants for research should also be able to honestly assess whether grants are being given only to some types of research proposals or whether scholars still have the freedom to research on any subject of their choice and not just “nationalist” subjects.

The truth is evident. Those who have given statements threatening Rahul Gandhi with legal action know their place in the larger scheme of things. It is certainly possible that not all of them are associated with the RSS, but they are exposed to the influence of the RSS every day. While I was writing this comment piece, a young teacher told me that Delhi University was using its own resources to organise the launch of a book written by an RSS functionary at which the VC too would be present. The book must be academically pathbreaking and it could only be a coincidence that the author was from the RSS!

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University and writes literary and cultural criticism. His latest book is Muktibodh Ki Lalten.

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