Education & Literature

    Sanjeev Bikhchandani's public remarks show arrogance of an owner, not a trustee: Peter Ronald deSouza on Ashoka Univ row

    The Hawk
    September16/ 2023
    Last Updated:

    New Delhi: Ashoka University co-founder and trustee, Sanjeev Bikhchandani may want to reflect on this proposition that andolans are constitutive of the human species, says Peter Ronald deSouza, former director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, in an article in a daily newspaper.

    “So don’t knock andolans. Broaden the conception. Andolans have given us poetry and music and art and philosophy. Parents should, in fact, send their children to Ashoka to ‘do andolan’. The more andolanjeevis Ashoka produces, the greater will be its legacy,” he said referring to Bikhchandani’s recent post on Ashoka University.

    “Whatever may be the motivations of parents, his understanding of the role of andolans in human history is very narrow, if not primitive. His public statements only show the arrogance of an owner and not that of a trustee,” the article said.

    “Common to both in a liberal arts university is the absolute commitment to academic freedom, to the right to argue a viewpoint and to have it challenged peacefully. This commitment, unfortunately, was abandoned in the case of Sabyasachi Das,” the article said.

    “Although Bikhchandani said of Ashoka, in a Financial Times (FT) interview on March 8, 2018, that, ‘It’s about building a better democracy. You need people who are willing to question power…’ Yet when Das questioned power he was thrown under a bus. Sadly, of the reputed scholars at Ashoka, only Pulapre Balakrishnan resigned in protest,” deSouza wrote.

    “Ashoka allowed interference by external authority in that minimum area. IIM-A, Bikhchandani’s alma mater, some months ago denied the Ministry of Education’s request to withdraw a PhD thesis considered objectionable by the regime saying it was not for the Ministry to ask. Another university that Bikhchandani mentions in his FT interview, Cambridge, defended a PhD student who gave a talk on slavery and was threatened with a legal case by a former MP whose family was mentioned as being part of the slave trade. The former MP backed down. Two institutions stood for academic freedom. One did not,” deSouza said.