Pulapre Balakrishnan, the Ashoka University professor who quit following a row over the resignation of economist Sabyasachi Das from the institution, has written a letter saying the University didn’t place the “slightest restraint” on his thoughts in class or when he wrote in the media and marched on the streets for rights.
Mr Balakrishnan, a full professor in the economics department who joined the private university in 2015, on Saturday wrote to Ashoka University Chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee and board of trustees chairperson Pramath Raj Sinha explaining his reasons for his resignation.
He said he did so because he believed “there was a grave error of judgment in the response to the attention received by Das’ paper (Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy) on social media”.
“Academic freedom was violated in the response, and it would be unconscionable for me to remain,” he wrote in the two-page letter reviewed by PTI.
Mr Das quit a fortnight after the varsity publicly distanced itself from his working paper that alleged electoral manipulation in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Mr Balakrishnan joined Ashoka after working at Oxford University, the Indian Statistical Institute, The Indian Institute of Management in Kozhikode, and the World Bank.
He said he would welcome the governing body’s reported decision to invite Mr Das to return to the post he had resigned from. If the news wasn’t true, he said he would request the leadership to consider doing just that.
“As for myself, I am moving on,” he said.
Author of several well-regarded books, including most recently “India’s Economy from Nehru to Modi”, Mr Balakrishnan said he has offered to stay and complete his teaching responsibilities for the semester.
“In any case, as I am not going to be here for much longer, I owe you both this letter,” he said, recalling his first meetings with them back in 2014 when he made disclosure of continuing his two decades of writing critically about economic policy in India and his association with the public campaign to repeal Section 377 of IPC that criminalise gay sex between consenting adults.
“I wish to place on record that in these eight years I have been here, the University has been true to its word. I have written extensively in the media, marched on the streets for my rights and expressed my thoughts in class without the slightest restraint placed in my path,” he said.
Mr Balakrishnan went on to state that the University even bank-rolled his latest book. “I did not have to meet anyone or even submit a proposal for this.” “The publisher informs me that the project was approved the moment that it was proposed. The study is the culmination of my professional work thus far, and is a no-holds-barred look at the economic history of our country, including needless to mention, the present,” he said. “For these opportunities afforded to me, I express my deepest gratitude to the foundation that you represent.” As a meagre recompense, he offered his personal collection of books to the University’s library.
“I am aware of the challenges you face in taking forward the mighty adventure that is Ashoka University,” he said. Being among the first faculty of IIM Kozhikode and now the private institution, he said he has seen “how terrifying it can be to deal with the government”.
While his media interactions post resignation have been on the pressure from government and independent initiatives in higher education in the country, some attention may inadvertently be drawn to Ashoka as he continues to speak in future, Mr Balakrishnan said.
“However, anyone reading this (letter) cannot but recognise the brave and selfless attempt to provide India with a thriving space for intellectual activity that it represents,” he said, signing off with “Farewell, adios, pranaam.”
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