Free speech suffered a blow in India this week, former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan wrote on Saturday, March 20, in a " target="_blank">social media post, after the resignation of Pratap Bhanu Mehta from Ashoka University earlier this week.
"Free speech suffered a grievous blow in India this week. Professor Pratap Mehta, one of India's finest political scientists, resigned from Ashoka University. Ashoka, for those who do not know, till this week was considered India's likely competitor to Cambridge, Harvard, and Oxford in coming decades. Unfortunately, its actions this week make that less probable," Rajan wrote.
"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. As a true academic, he is an equal opportunity critic. He is, and I hope, will continue to be, one of the intellectual leaders of liberalism in India," the economist wrote.
PB Mehta had resigned from Ashoka University after the University founders disagreed with his writings which were critical of the central government's policies, reported Livemint. Scholar and political commentator PB Mehta wrote in his resignation letter that the founders made it "abundantly clear that my association with the institution was a political liability."
Following Mehta's exit, Arvind Subramanian, a former chief economic advisor of the government, also resigned from Ashoka University as a professor.
Subramanian said that Mehta's exit two days ago shows that the university even "with its private status and backing by private capital" cannot provide any space for 'academic expression and freedom'.
Reacting to the resignations, Rajan wrote that liberalism has been set back by the actions of Ashoka University.
"Mehta and Subramanian's resignation statements would suggest that Ashoka's founders have succumbed to outside pressure to get rid of a troublesome critic. As an institution, the university should not take political sides," Rajan said.
"Free speech suffered a grievous blow in India this week. Professor Pratap Mehta, one of India's finest political scientists, resigned from Ashoka University. Ashoka, for those who do not know, till this week was considered India's likely competitor to Cambridge, Harvard, and Oxford in coming decades. Unfortunately, its actions this week make that less probable," the former RBI governor wrote.
Apart from the former RBI Governor, nearly 150 intellectuals from international universities, including Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, and Cambridge, came out in support of PB Mehta, calling it a 'dangerous attack on academic freedom'.
Signatories to the letter, include Homi K Bhabha of Harvard University, Erwin Chemerinsky of the Berkeley School of Law, Rogers Smith of the University of Pennsylvania, Milan Vaishnav of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Kate O'Regan of Oxford University.
"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, but forced his resignation," the letter says.
"The university must be a home for fearless inquiry and criticism. We support Pratap Bhanu Mehta in his practice of the highest values of intellectual inquiry and public life," it says.