Monday, 30th October 2017

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In Gujarat, some stand up to be counted

Ahmedabad college principal protests Jignesh Mevani ban

By Pheroze L. Vincent in New Delhi
  • Published 12.02.19, 3:40 AM
  • Updated 12.02.19, 8:36 AM
  • 2 mins read
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Jignesh Mevani regretted that Gujarat’s civil society had largely been silent over the development at one of the state’s best-known liberal arts colleges. Telegraph picture

A college principal in Ahmedabad has resigned in protest after the trustees forced the cancellation of the institution’s annual day function following opposition from “BJP goons” to Ambedkarite MLA Jignesh Mevani being invited as the chief guest.

Economics professor Hemant Shah, who sent his resignation as principal of the Shri Harivallabhdas Kalidas Arts College to the Brahmchari Wadi Trust on Monday, said the trustees had succumbed to “pressure from so-called student leaders of Gujarat University”.

Mevani, a former student of the college, tweeted: “Because of threat calls made by BJP goons, trustees of HK Arts College, Ahmedabad (which) I graduated from cancelled the annual function where I was invited as chief guest.”

He added: “Was going to talk about life and mission of Babasaheb (Ambedkar). Salute to principal Hemant Shah who resigned on moral ground.”

Shah quit his post a day after the trust, of the 171-year-old Gujarat Vidyasabha which promotes Gujarati literature and education, denied the use of its 750-seat auditorium for the college’s annual day event.

“I feel that it is Jignesh Mevani’s right to speak before the audience of my college. If freedom of expression is not guaranteed, and if the trust is under pressure from so-called student leaders of Gujarat University, then what is the use of a democratic set-up?” Shah told The Telegraph.

“I felt it was my duty to tell people that this should not be the course of action by the trust. The trustees should’ve supported me. They did not and this annoyed me.”

He said he had invited Mevani, an independent MLA who champions Dalit and labour rights, more than a fortnight ago.

“The reason they gave is the ‘present political scenario’. Even I got a call from a pro-BJP student leader saying they wouldn’t allow Jignesh (at the event), and if he came there would be ‘100 per cent disruption’,” he said.

“The trustees too told me of this pressure. The vice-principal and I told them we were ready to hold the event, but they refused.”

Shah declined to name the student leader who had called him.

Defending the decision to invite a politician like Mevani, he said senior BJP leaders, including Narendra Modi when he was Gujarat chief minister, had addressed students at the college’s events.

Shah said the trustees had met and requested him to reconsider his resignation, and he had “agreed to think about it”.

The trustees, who include Padma Shri awardees such as architect B.V. Doshi — the Gujarat Vidyasabha president — and author Kumarpal Desai, could not be reached for comment.

Mevani, who belongs to the 2003 BA English batch, said: “My pro-poor conscience got an ideological foundation in this college…. It is an extremely pro-working-class space, and the plays I watched here and participated in as a student have made me what I am.”

He regretted that Gujarat’s civil society had largely been silent over the development at one of the state’s best-known liberal arts colleges.

“I’m still ready to go if the trustees agree. We cannot bow down to threats,” he said.

In a tweet, Mevani accused the trustees of “not standing up against the hooliganism of the BJP and its student wing”.

“This is a shameful day for freedom of speech and democracy,” he said. “Since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, many people have become spineless.”

News agency PTI quoted Shah as saying: “It is clear that freedom of thought and expression… are being stifled in the current political scenario, and this is being patronised politically.”