Ashoka University in Haryana has accepted the resignation of economics teacher Sabyasachi Das, who quit a fortnight after the varsity publicly distanced itself from his working paper that alleged electoral manipulation in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
On Tuesday, The Wire news portal reported that professor of economics Pulapre Balakrishnan, who has previously taught at Oxford, has also put in his papers “in solidarity” with Das.
Asked, Balakrishnan told The Telegraph: “I am not engaging with the media on this issue right now.”
Das’s unpublished paper, “Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy”, uses mathematical tests to imply that “the incumbent party in 2019 won a disproportionate share of closely contested elections”.
Disclaimers in the paper — presented at the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US last month — include that these wins would not have changed the overall result of the Lok Sabha polls, and that these tests were not proof of fraud.
However, after the paper became a topic of heated debate, especially between the Congress and the BJP, the varsity put out an unprecedented statement saying that “the paper in question has not yet completed a critical review process” and that social media activity or activism by Ashoka employees or students “does not reflect the stand of the University”.
A working paper is shared before publication to seek views from peers. These are considered for incorporation in the paper or for correcting assumptions, methods and facts cited in the paper.
On Tuesday night, vice-chancellor Somak Raychaudhury said in a statement: “Ashoka University confirms that Dr. Sabyasachi Das, Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics, has submitted his resignation. Dr. Das is currently on leave from Ashoka, serving as visiting faculty at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (Deemed to be University) in Pune. After making extensive efforts to dissuade him, the University has accepted his resignation.”
He added: “Dr. Das’s paper on Indian elections was the subject of a widespread controversy after being shared recently on social media, where it was perceived by many to reflect the views of the University…. The University does not direct or moderate the research conducted by its faculty and students. This academic freedom also applied to Dr. Das.”
The varsity has not yet made a statement on Balakrishnan. Balakrishnan was one of the economics professors tagged on X (formerly Twitter) by Jayati Ghosh, who teaches the subject at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, expressing shock at the “lack of solidarity” by Ashoka faculty.
Today, Ghosh wrote on the platform: “I’m filled with respect for my old friend @PulapreB!”
In 2021, political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta quit Ashoka, saying that the founders of the varsity had made it clear to him that he is a “political liability”. Economist Arvind Subramanian also quit in solidarity with Mehta who was seen as a victim of intolerance against his newspaper columns criticising the ruling BJP.