Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan is the latest to join the league of academicians around the world who have voiced their concerns over events that led to the unprecedented departure of Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian from Ashoka University.
"Free speech is the soul of a great university. By compromising on it, the founders have bartered away its soul," the former Reserve Bank of India chief has said. Rajan is a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
"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," the economist said in a LinkedIn post.
Rajan also referred to the departure of Arvind Subramanian, 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 and 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.
“He is, and I hope will continue to be, one of the intellectual leaders of liberalism in India,” Rajan opined.
Mehta, in his resignation letter dated March 15, said the founders made it “abundantly clear” his association with the institution was a “political liability.” Similarly, Subramanian's resignation letter rued the "lack of space for academic expression and freedom".
Following the developments, faculty members at Ashoka University have written to the vice chancellor and board members, expressing anguish over Mehta's resignation as a professor from the university. Students have also staged sit-in protests in the university campus following Mehta's resignation.