Ashoka row: Professors demand Sabyasachi Das' reinstatement, threaten faculty exodus

Eco Dept faculty have now written an open letter, warning the Governing Body's "interference" in the process to "investigate the merits" of his study was likely to "precipitate an exodus of faculty"

Ashoka University; Sabyasachi Das (photo courtesy: Ashoka University)
Ashoka University; Sabyasachi Das (photo courtesy: Ashoka University)


Days after Sabyasachi Das, a professor at Ashoka University, resigned following a controversy over his research paper, his department's faculty members have written to the Governing Body saying they won't teach till Das is offered reinstatement.

The university had earlier distanced itself from the paper, "Democratic Backsliding in the World's Largest Democracy", in which Das argued that the BJP won a disproportionate share of closely contested parliamentary seats in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, especially in states where it was the ruling party at the time. The research was published on the Social Science Research Network on July 25.

Das had claimed that the alleged electoral manipulation by the BJP also appeared to have taken the form of targeted electoral discrimination against Muslims, “partly facilitated by weak monitoring by election observers”.

The faculty members of the Economic Department have now written an open letter, warning the Governing Body's "interference" in the process to "investigate the merits" of his study was likely to "precipitate an exodus of faculty".

The departments of English and Creative Writing, in a joint statement, too demanded that Das be reinstated. They also stated that they would not be able to carry out their teaching obligations “unless questions regarding basic academic freedoms are resolved before the Monsoon 2023 semester".

"The offer of resignation by our colleague Prof Sabyasachi Das and its hasty acceptance by the University has deeply ruptured the faith that we in the faculty of the department of Economics, our colleagues, our students, and well-wishers of Ashoka University everywhere, had reposed in the university's leadership," the letter said.

"We urge the governing body to address this immediately, but no later than August 23, 2023. Failure to do so will systematically wreck the largest academic department at Ashoka and the very viability of the Ashoka vision," it added.

Demanding that the governing body unconditionally reoffer Sabyasachi his position and also affirm that it will play no role in evaluating faculty research, the letter said, "Unless these questions regarding basic academic freedoms are resolved before the start of the Monsoon 2023 semester, faculty members of the department will find themselves unable to carry forward their teaching obligations in the spirit of critical enquiry and the fearless pursuit of truth that characterise our classrooms".

After Das' research paper came under criticism, the University distanced itself and had stated that social media activity or public activism by Ashoka faculty, students or staff in their “individual capacity” does not reflect its stand.

Das later resigned and the university had accepted his resignation.

According to Das' paper, the "disproportionate" wins were never observed in past elections by BJP or Congress, and also that they were mainly seen in states ruled by BJP at that time. His paper cites that the reasons for this could be that either the BJP committed electoral fraud or it was able to accurately predict closely contested seats and mobilise party workers to campaign more intensively.

The open letter by professors said, "Das did not violate any accepted norm of academic practice. Academic research is professionally evaluated through a process of peer review. The Governing Body’s interference in this process to investigate the merits of his recent study constitutes institutional harassment, curtails academic freedom, and forces scholars to operate in an environment of fear.

"We condemn this in the strongest terms and refuse as a collective to cooperate in any future attempt to evaluate the research of individual economics faculty members by the Governing Body." The letter alleged that the actions of the Governing Body pose an existential threat to the department and is likely to precipitate an exodus of faculty and prevent the university from attracting new faculty.

The Governing Body comprises Ashoka University Chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Vice Chancellor Somak Raychaudhury, Madhu Chandak, Puneet Dalmia, Ashish Dhawan, Pramath Raj Sinha, Siddharth Yog, Deep Kalra and Ziaa Lalka.

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