The VC, who acknowledges his sympathies for the RSS, vehemently denies being present at the prime minister’s rally
Varanasi: As two back-to-back election road shows – one by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the other by both Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav – choked Varanasi, the mistaken ‘sighting’ of Banaras Hindu University vice chancellor G.C. Tripathi at Modi’s rally by students and faculty members on Saturday generated a lively controversy of its own.
“I can say 200% that I was not present at the election rally”, Tripathi told The Wire on Monday.
Earlier, two BHU students and a few faculty members who spoke to The Wire on condition of anonymity had alleged that the VC – who recently told a television channel he is “associated with RSS and proud of that” – walked with Modi for a part of the rally. BHU insiders say the confusion may have been triggered by a photograph of a man who bore a resemblance to the VC.
Acknowledging that they were mistaken in believing he had attended the Modi roadshow, Tripathi’s critics on campus nevertheless continue to allege that his open support for the Sangh Parivar is not in keeping with the apolitical nature of a vice chancellor’s job. “He has turned the university into an RSS den, where any critical free speech is met with the iron hand of the administration,” one faculty member alleged.
Under central government employee rules, a government servant is barred from showing any allegiance to a political party, though the RSS insists it is a ‘cultural organisation’.
In a a recent programme on India Today TV, four women students had talked about increasing levels of gender discrimination in the campus and how Hindutva-oriented students exercise disproportionate control over the university space under Tripathi’s administration.
A senior faculty member at the university told The Wire that the students who spoke to the channel showed exemplary courage as there is an unwritten rule that students should not speak to the media.
He said that there is a heavy clampdown on free speech at the university under Tripathi’s tenure and that BHU might well be under the grip of the Sangh Parivar in future.
“Any critical speech, even if it is for academic purpose, is not allowed. At one level, there is Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Sangh’s student wing, which does not even need permission to hold rallies and functions in campus, and at the other any talk which may be critical of government policies are not allowed at all,” said the professor.
He said that if he comes on record, he might have to face punishment at the hands of administration.
Another teacher said that the four students who spoke against gender discrimination on campus had to face a lot of flak from the administration and the administration is currently processing notices against them.
In contrast, the ABVP held a national flag march on campus two days before, without seeking any permission.
Another professor of BHU told The Wire that the Sangh parivar glorifies the legacy of Madan Mohan Malviya, founder of the university, but it only selectively adopts his values.
“He believed in Hindu values but at no point he was anti-democratic. Today, at the university, no voice other than the Sangh is even heard, leave alone spoken. What is a university for, if ideas cannot be discussed here. Are we producing a herd who will speak and act like one political group?” he asked.
He also alleged that in the last three months, at least four teachers were sent notices to provide explanations for something they said.
A former Allahabad University professor of economics, Tripathi was appointed the VC of BHU in 2014, soon after BJP came to power. Since then he has often courted controversy.
For instance, he justified sexist rules on campus and asked “why aren’t boys raped, why are only girls raped” while doing so.
In Janurary 2016, he expelled Ramon Magsasaysay awardee and social activist Sandeep Pandey from the university on charges that he was participating in “naxalite and anti-national activities.” Pandey, denied the charge and alleged that he was expelled at the behest of the RSS because he spoke against the saffronisation of the university.
The expulsion of Pandey, a Gandhian, had come right after he showed his solidarity towards expelled workers in the campus and made it a case of human rights violations.
Then again, Tripathi had claimed that the government belonged to the RSS. His comments had received a lot of flak from the academic community and civil society alike.
Note: In an earlier version of this story filed on Sunday, the allegation that Tripathi had participated in Modi’s rally was taken at face value and reactions in the media from former Election Commission officials and others to the effect that this would be a violation of service rules were quoted. The story was suspended in the wake of media reports citing Tripathi’s denial pending further investigation and was republished on Monday evening. The Wire apologises to Prof G.C. Tripathi for wrongly reporting his presence at the election rally.