A letter from University Grants Commission chairman Arun Nigavekar to vice-chancellors of three universities requesting them to buy copies of a book on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as “reference material”, has sparked a war of words.
In his note, dated October 16, Nigavekar requested the varsity heads to preserve “a very interesting book on our Prime Minister” in their libraries. Copies were also sent to vice-chancellors of other universities across the country.
In his bid to push the book, Nigavekar maintained that it “contains nearly 1,400 photographs covering various events in the lifetime of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.”
The book, edited by Seshadri Chari, chief editor of RSS mouthpiece Organiser, and A. Joshi, former BJP parliamentarian, and unveiled by RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan at a function in Pune on March 25, costs Rs 4,000.
“It is unbecoming of the UGC chief to request the university heads to buy a book on the Prime Minister’s life. What do students have to do with Vajpayee’s life'” asked former chief minister Jyoti Basu. He said on Sunday that it was up to the varsity heads to decide whether such a book was worth buying or not. “To my mind, such a request should not have come from the UGC chief,” he added.
Calcutta University vice-chancellor Ashish Banerjee said on Sunday: “I am surprised to receive Nigavekar’s letter. This is awful.” He felt a book on the life of the Prime Minister could not possibly be considered “good” reference material. “That is why we have decided not to buy the book,” he added.
Echoing Banerjee, Rabindra Bharati vice-chancellor Bharati Mukherjee said the university “is not bound to comply” with Nigavekar’s request. “Why should students care to read about the present Prime Minister’s life'” she asked.
Jadavpur University vice-chancellor A.N. Basu said though he was yet to go through the letter, “we are not going to buy the book.” Taking up cudgels against the UGC chief, Anil Bhattacharya, general secretary of the CPM-controlled West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association, alleged that the move was a BJP ploy to “communalise” the higher education system. “We will launch a statewide protest if the UGC tries to impose its decision,” he warned.
The Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the CPM’s student wing, said it would organise a rally at the Central level to protest the UGC’s “autocratic style of functioning”. Somnath Bhattacharya, all-India vice-president, said the issue would top the agenda at the November 21 rally in Delhi against the Sangh Parivar’s move to “lead the country to disaster”.
The RSS, that runs nearly 250 schools in and outside Calcutta, said it would ask the institutions to buy copies of the book. “ It is a must-read for schoolchildren across India,” said Kalipada Basu, RSS eastern chapter head.