How Govt made Pratap Bhanu Mehta a hero

Pratap Bhanu Mehta affair highlights Govt’s penchant for creating new heroes

Rajesh Dikshit |

Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Pratap Bhanu Mehta (Photo courtesy: commons.wikimedia.org)

The Narendra Modi regime seems to have found a new hobby—creating martyrs against itself, often making heroes out of nobodies. It’s a dangerous hobby, for in the process the regime faces unnecessary flak without gaining anything whatsoever. The Pratap Bhanu Mehta affair epitomizes this fact.

Mehta, a prominent scholar, resigned from Ashoka University recently, accusing the varsity founders of making it “abundantly clear” to him that his association with the university was a “political liability.” He has been very critical of the government in his writings, regularly castigating it for its decisions and actions.

If there was any pressure on the university authorities to sack or silence Mehta, it was absolutely unnecessary, for few read his dense prose and fewer got inspired by it. He—like most of the activists facing legal action—was no threat to the ruling coalition. In other words, the pressure was not just morally unsound but also politically useless.

Actually much worse than useless, as Mehta is being portrayed, not wrongly, as another victim of the Modi government. Support for him is pouring in from various quarters, from all over the world. More than 150 academicians from prestigious universities, including Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, and Cambridge, have backed him.

In an open letter, they wrote, “A prominent critic of the current Indian government and defender of academic freedom, he had become a target for his writings. It seems that Ashoka’s Trustees, who should have treated defending him as their institutional duty, instead all but forced his resignation.”

Expressing solidarity with Mehta, they wrote, “In political life, these are free argument, tolerance, and a democratic spirit of equal citizenship. In the university, they are free inquiry, candor, and rigorous distinction between the demands of intellectual honesty and the pressure of politicians, funders, or ideological animus. These values come under assault whenever a scholar is punished for the content of public speech. When that speech is in defense of precisely these values, the assault is especially shameful.”

Earlier, Mehta’s colleague Arvind Subramanian had quit in protest; he also called Mehta’s exit “ominously disturbing.” It will be difficult for the government’s spin doctors to dismiss Subramanian as a member of the ‘Khan Market gang,’ as he held the high office of chief economic advisor in the Modi government. Now students are also protesting against Mehta’s exit.

The army against the Modi regime continues to grow.

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