A Judgment That Affirms Dissent is Not ‘Anti-National’

The judgment quashing my termination from BHU says that irrespective of whether a view is correct, the freedom to express your views is a legitimate and constitutional right in this country.

Sandeep Pandey. Credit: Two Circles

Sandeep Pandey. Credit: Two Circles

The judgement from the Allahabad high court on April 23, 2016, quashing my termination order from the Indian Institute of Technology at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), has come as a big relief for me. It is essentially a vindication of my thoughts and actions. Moreover, without taking the name of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the majoritarian Hindutva ideology or the vice-chancellor Professor Girish Chandra Tripathi, it has spared no words in their criticism.

The judgement is most importantly a defence of the freedom of speech and expression. It says that irrespective of whether a view is correct, the freedom to express your views is a legitimate and constitutional right in this country that cannot be held to ransom by an intolerant group. Thus, in the debate on tolerance and intolerance, which made headlines a while ago, the judgement clearly indicates that stifling a different opinion is being intolerant. In this context, the court has delivered a master stroke by quoting Voltaire’s famous saying, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.” The atmosphere of terror manufactured – where not action but words became the basis for branding anybody anti-national and making them liable for attacks that even put his/her life at risk – has been dismantled by this argument. One hopes that some sense will now prevail over those identifying themselves with aggressive Hindutva ideology.

In response to the accusation against me, that my teaching was against national interest and could disturb communal harmony as well as encourage students to take law into their hands on campus, the court clearly says that fair criticism of government policies cannot be a ground for restricting the freedom of speech and expression. It says that situations may arise where responsible persons may feel it is their duty to criticise and invite people to come for discussion, which would not constitute misconduct. The court has clearly upheld the right to dissent, which is a resounding assertion of democracy.

Quite remarkably, the founder of BHU, Madan Mohan Malviya, even though he belonged to the Hindu Mahasabha, said, “India is not a country of Hindus only. It is country of Muslims, Christians and Parsees too. The country can gain strength and develop itself only when people of different communities in India live in mutual goodwill and harmony.” The court very thoughtfully pulled out this quote from the Mahamana to counter the attempts by people associated with Hindutva to dominate the country and relegate everybody else to either an inferior position, or worse, put them in the category of ‘anti-national’. It also wants to convey that the attempts to create a communal divide in the minds of people will weaken the country just like it did when partition took place 69 years back. The idea that Hindutva can grow at the expense of others has clearly been rejected by Malviya. RSS may like to think that Malviya belonged to their genre, but his aforementioned quote shows that he thought differently. Mentioning this particular quote also unequivocally affirms the concept of secularism in our Constitution by the court, which is the basis of communal harmony in our country, but has been under attack from the right wing for some time. One hopes that the notion of secularism would not be put to test time and again by the right wing, as it much older than the history of democratic India.

Out of respect for the Mahamana’s feelings, the university authorities should think about constructing other religious places on campus in addition to the magnificent Vishwanath temple which currently stands. People following other religions should also have a chance to pray inside campus. As of now, non-Hindus have to go outside campus to offer their religious prayers.

The judgement also says, in criticism of the VC and his friends associated with the RSS in important administrative positions, that academic administrators should remain politically neutral when taking decisions about academic or administrative matters. The dean of faculty affairs, Professor Dhananjay Pandey had the IIT (BHU) conduct rules sent to me on October 15, 2015 through the assistant registrar. By a remarkable “coincidence”, on the same date, a student of political science, Avinash Pandey filed a complaint against me with the VC. The conspiracy to terminate my contract was hatched by persons associated with the RSS, in which the complainant and administrators joined hands. The court categorically said that the decision to terminate my contract was stigmatic and punitive in nature and not a simplicitor. It added that, “Heavy words such as commission of cyber crime and acting against national interest have been loosely used. All these allegations are serious in nature and such allegations have serious aspersions on the conduct and character of an incumbent and the way and manner in which decision in question has been taken as against him ex-parte cannot be approved by us.”

The decision has come as a relief not only to me but to also a lot of my friends who felt stifled in the present atmosphere. We now know that democracy has not disappeared from the country or its campuses completely.

I now have the dubious distinction of joining two of my illustrious relatives, professor of indology at BHU Raj Bali Pandey, my mother’s uncle, who later became VC at Jabalpur University and professor of chemical engineering Gopal Tripathi, the first director of the Institute of Technology, before it became IIT, at BHU, and former’s cousin, who too were expelled by the university in 1960 along with several other professors like Hazari Prasad Dwivedi. Acharya Narendra Dev, the famous Buddhist scholar who served as VC for three years and was also the first president of Socialist Party, had to leave BHU too, under not very pleasant circumstances.

Postscript, May 9, 2016:  Inspite of the above-mentioned order the VC has not let me rejoin BHU yet

Sandeep Pandey is vice-president of the Socialist Party (India).