Mumbai: For the nth time in recent times, citizens of free India have been left scratching their heads, wondering what the fundamental right to freedom of expression, enshrined in our Constitution, really means.
In a bizarre turn of events at a Wardha university, six students have been expelled on the grounds of ‘violation of model code of conduct’ and ‘interference in the judicial process.' Their crime? They had the temerity to write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing anguish over happenings in their motherland.
In a classic instance of bending backwards to please the ruling dispensation, authorities of the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya (MGAHV) have expelled six students for writing to Modi on mob lynching, the proposed sale of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited and the abrogation of Article 370. The students claim, Vice Chancellor Rajneesh Shukla, who is associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is behind their expulsion.
The expelled students are Chandan Saroj, Neeraj Kumar, Rajesh Yadav Sarthi, Rajnish Ambedkar, Pankaj Wela and Vaibhav Pimpalkar. Saroj, Ambedkar and Wela belong to the Scheduled Castes, while Sarthi, Kumar and Pimpalkar are from the Other Backward Classes.
"We wanted to protest the slapping of sedition charges on 49 celebrities for writing a letter to PM Modi. So we came up with the idea of writing to the PM on issues like lynching of Dalits and Muslims, the suppression of the voice of activists and intellectuals, the proposed privatisation of Railways and Public Sector Units like BPCL, the loot of money from banks. We had planned a programme on October 9 at 5 pm, where all those wishing to write the letter would gather to compose it," Saroj told The Free Press Journal.
"But the university objected to this and said we could not write to the PM. They first asked us to get written permission for this programme. Half-an-hour before the event, we were informed that permission had been denied, under the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules. By this time, students had already assembled. Gandhi Hill, where the programme was scheduled to take place, was barricaded by university security. So we sat down at the entrance to Gandhi Hill and wrote our letter to PM Modi. Shortly after, we were informed about our expulsion," Ambedkar said.
"According to a letter issued by MGAHV administration, signed by acting registrar Dr Rajeshwar Singh dated Wednesday, 9 October, the students have been expelled on the grounds of ‘violation of model code of conduct’ and ‘interference in the judicial process’," said Neeraj Kumar.
Who is V-C Shukla: Rajneesh Kumar Shukla was member-secretary of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi, until his appointment as VC of the Vishwavidyalaya. He was a teacher of philosophy and religion at Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, Varanasi, since 1991 and was a three-term head of department, with each term lasting for three years. He was the dean of faculty, Philosophy. Reportedly, his association with the RSS helped him get the VC post. Ten days before his appointment as VC, a Lucknow resident, Chandra Pal Singh had emailed President Ramnath Kovind, red-flagging Shukla's expected appointment. Singh has demanded a probe into Shukla’s appointment and sought the latter’s removal from his posts at ICPR and ICHR.
'University under RSS siege': "VC Rajneesh Shukla is actively associated with the RSS. He is trying to muzzle the voice of dissent ever since he joined six months ago. After his entry into the university, RSS shakhas are regularly being held on the campus. We are neither candidates nor officials, so how can our programme be violation of the model code of conduct? How can writing a letter to the PM be interference in judicial process? We have elected the PM and we have a fundamental right to express our concern to him," Saroj said.