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Mehta, Subramanian's exits: Free speech suffered a grievous blow, says Raghuram Rajan

Mehta, Subramanian's exits: Free speech suffered a grievous blow, says Raghuram Rajan

Rajan says Prof Mehta was a "thorn" in the side of the establishment and no ordinary thorn because he "skewers" those in government  and in high offices like the Supreme Court with "visid prose" and thought-provoking arguments

Raghuram Rajan, professor, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business Raghuram Rajan, professor, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business

The announcement regarding the sudden departure of two distinguished faculty members, Bhanu Pratap Mehta and Arvind Subramanian, from Haryana's Ashoka University has invited criticism from several academicians. The latest to comment on the issue is former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan.

In his LinkedIn post, Rajan, who's now a professor at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, has said with their exit, "free speech" suffered a "grievous blow" in India. "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.

He said Prof Mehta's resignation came in the middle of the teaching quarter, and was so sudden that he pleaded in his resignation letter with the university to make arrangements for his driver, who would otherwise be left jobless. "It is unlikely that such a resignation was premeditated," he said.

Mehta's resignation was followed by Prof Arvind Subramanian's resignation, the former chief economist of India who served during the Modi government's first renure from 2014-2016.

"Two lines from his resignation are noteworthy: "That even Ashoka - with its private status and backing by private capital -- can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom is ominously disturbing. Above all, the university's commitment to fight for and sustain the Ashoka vision is now open to question makes it difficult for me to continue being part of Ashoka"," said Rajan.

He said Prof Mehta is a "thorn" in the side of the establishment and no ordinary thorn because he "skewers" those in government  and in high offices like the Supreme Court with "visid prose" and thought-provoking arguments. "It is not that he has much sympathy for opposition either. As a true academic, he is an equal opportunity critic.

"I hope he will continue to be one of the intellectual leaders of liberalism in India," Rajan opined. Rajan said Ashoka, for those who don't know, till this week was considered India's likely competitor to Cambridge, Harward, and Oxford in coming decades. "Unfortunately, its actions this week make that less probable," he wrote.

Apart from Rajan, personalities from global intelligencia like Milan Vaishnav and Martha C Nussbaum have also criticised Mehta and Subramanian's exit from Ashoka University. Prof Mehta resigned as Ashoka University vice-chancellor in July 2019 but remained as a professor. He also quit from his post as professor on March 16.

In his resignation letter to Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar, he said his "public writing in support of a politics that tries to honour constitutional values of freedom and equal respect for all citizens is perceived to carry risks for the university". "In the interests of the University I resign," he said. Ashoka University is a fully privately funded university, which is dedicated to the liberal arts.

Two days later on March 18, Subramanian also resigned from Ashoka University. He said Mehta was compelled to leave the university. Subramanian joined Ashoka University in July last year as a professor in the department of economics. He was also the founding director of the new Ashoka Center for Economic Policies.

Also read: After Pratap Bhanu Mehta, ex-CEA Arvind Subramanian resigns from Ashoka University