Politics

Students From India’s Premier Educational Institutes Are Distancing Themselves From BJP

Hate speeches and hate crimes are on the rise in India, the South Asian country considered to be peaceful a decade back. What started with mob lynchings of individuals from minority community on the charges of transporting and consuming beef, has now reached a point where places of worship are being vandalized, prayers are being disrupted, and open calls to genocide are being given with impunity. 

Haridwar Hate Assembly

Recently, a ‘Dharam Sansad’ (Religious Parliament) held in Haridwar saw a series of hate speeches targeting Muslims and calling for violence and genocide. Yati Narsinghanand, a controversial priest from Ghaziabad who faces multiple FIRs in India’s most populous state, called for a “war against Muslims” and urged “Hindus to take up weapons” to ensure a “Muslim didn’t become the Prime Minister in 2029” in this Dharam Sansad. Ashwini Upadhyay, a spokesperson for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was among those who attended the meeting, held from December 17 to 19. Along with repeated invoking of the name of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse by several speakers, one seer went to the extent of saying that he’d have assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had he been present in the parliament. Though Uttarkahand police registered a First Information Report (FIR) in this case, no arrests have been made yet. 

Yati Narsinghanand speaking at the Haridwar Dharam Sansad. 

The hate-assembly received widespread condemnation from several quarters of the society in India and across the world, with reputed media houses like The New York Times and The Washington Post covering the incident. 

Open letter to Prime Minister

Following the outcry over the Haridwar event, a group of students and faculty members from the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad penned down a letter to Prime Minister Modi, flagging hate speech and attacks on minorities. Their letter said the PM’s silence “emboldens” voices of hate. The letter, mailed to the Prime Minister’s Office, has 183 signatories, including 13 faculty members of IIM Bangalore and three of IIM Ahmedabad.

“Your silence on the rising intolerance in our country, Honourable Prime Minister, is disheartening to all of us who value the multicultural fabric of our country. Your silence, Honourable Prime Minister, emboldens the hate-filled voices and threatens the unity and integrity of our country,” the letter said. It urged the PM to steer the country away from “forces that seek to divide us”.

“Our Constitution gives us the right to practice our religion with dignity – without fear, without shame. There is a sense of fear in our country now – places of worship, including churches in recent days, are being vandalised, and there have been calls to take arms against our Muslim brothers and sisters. All of this is carried out with impunity and without any fear of due process,” the letter read.

It then requests the PM to stand firm against forces that seek to divide citizens.

Letter by IIM students and faculties to PM Modi. 

 “We ask your leadership to turn our minds and hearts, as a nation, away from inciting hatred against our people. We believe that a society can focus on creativity, innovation, and growth, or society can create divisions within itself. We want to build an India that stands as an exemplar of inclusiveness and diversity in the world. We, the undersigned faculty, staff, and students of the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) and Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), hope and pray that you will lead the country in making the right choices,” it states.

Significance of the letter

Now, the IIMs are premier institutes of management education and research under the ownership of Ministry of Education, Government of India. Like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), which are premier technical education institutes run by the Indian government, the IIMs are also counted among the top reputed institutes for management studies and account for significant part of emigration from the country. Many foreign businesses, looking for Indian talents for management roles, hire from institutes like IIMs. According to the audited placement report of 2020 at IIM-A, a total of 153 firms participated with 182 different roles in the placement process the earlier year. Mckinsey and Boston Consulting Group, the two US-based management companies, were among the top recruiters.

It is very rare for students and faculties from government-run institutes to speak against incumbent government. There’s always a risk of disciplinary action against those who raise their voices. Before writing to the Prime Minister over the Haridwar hate-assembly, students and faculties of IIM-Bangalore had also protested against the Modi government’s contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). 

Students from IIT-B protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), despite police ban and no permission from the school's administration.

Why students and faculties from these premier institutes, despite the fear of facing consequences, are speaking up about the current state of affairs? Why do they feel the need to write an open letter to the PM, an act that itself may get themselves in trouble, at the cost of the lucrative career they signed up for into IIMs? 

Hate driving emigration

“Students in institutes like IITs and IIMs are very career-oriented,” says Prof Ram Puniyani, who was a faculty at the IIT Bombay for 27 years and has written several books on the rise of Hindtuva politics and right-wing activism. 

“Because of whatever’s going on in the country, career possibilities in India are also dipping very heavily. A good section of students studying at these institutes is alive to basic democratic sensibilities. There is, of course, one section which has been heavily influenced by the right-wing ideology,” Prof Puniyani adds. 

“But there’s an aware section of students in these institutes which feels like if the country goes in this direction, it’s not going to be healthy, even in their career’s point of few.”

“They also feel the kind of policies implemented by the current government are going to take the country backwards, in terms of industrial employment and developmental index,” says Prof Puniyani.

When asked if the current political and social discourse will impact in rise in brain drain, in which the top strata of India’s intellegentsia will chose to leave the country, Prof Puniyani says: “I don’t have statistics to back this up, but the general sentiment that’s coming from many sections of society is that it is becoming more and more turbulent here. In search of greener grass, they think why not migrate abroad where it is socially more peaceful. For countries like Australia, Canada, UK, America, you will see a big deal of students having orientation, mainly precipitated by the atmosphere of rising hate by every day here.” 

Although Prof Puniyani thinks the international coverage of hate crimes in India would not affect much on foreign businesses recruiting students from these institutes. 

“The companies which come for recruitment know that the section of students they are recruting is not party to the hate-violence proliferating in the country. They are very clear that they are not recruting someone who is involved in such things,” Prof Puniyani says. 

It, however, reflects badly on the foreign investments in the country, says Prof Puniyani. 

“More and more companies will back out from the country in terms of investment. They will intensify recruitment, but will not choose to invest here,” he concluded. 

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