Improper channel

The unpleasantness at Nehru Memorial Library shows that academic institutions must be insulated from government.

By: Express News Service | Published: September 21, 2015 12:00 am
Mahesh Rangarajan, Nehru memorial, UPA government, Rangarajan resigns, Election Commission, Rangarajan Nehru memorial, Nation news, India news, The indian express Rangarajan’s three-year term was to end in August 2014. He was appointed in July 2011 on “deputation” from University of Delhi although rules permitted only direct recruitment.

The exit of Mahesh Rangarajan as director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) raises uncomfortable questions about the government’s role in appointments at the highest level in institutions that have been central to the intellectual life of the nation. The loudest question is: Why now? If the minister for culture finds the permanent appointment of Rangarajan by the previous regime “unethical and illegal” today, it must have been just as questionable when the Narendra Modi government took office in May 2014. If it chose to retain Rangarajan while believing that the process of his selection was improper, that choice was equally improper. Due process is at the heart of the controversy surrounding Rangarajan, who offered to resign last week and has now demitted office. Institutions are equipped with a governing apparatus of their own, usually comprising specialist professionals who make up an executive body, which enjoys the benign guidance of an advisory board. Is it proper for governments to bypass this apparatus — which has the domain expertise and processes to appoint its own head — and hire and fire at will, selecting favourites to promote their agendas or propagate their worldview? Even if the UPA government foisted its chosen person in NMML as alleged, that does not justify an NDA government committing the same offence.

Rangarajan’s name is the latest in a long list of intellectual martyrs who have ceded office to the Modi government’s appointees. The Malayalam author Sethu was replaced at the National Book Trust by the former editor of the RSS mouthpiece. IIT Delhi director Raghunath K. Shevgaonkar and Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the board of governors of IIT Bombay, were practically forced to tender their resignations. And the new head of the Indian Council of Historical Research is not exactly revered by his peers. Even if the government chooses the extreme step of forcing changes at the top, it must do so by due process.

Indeed, the purge at NMML offers an inverted mirror image to the fracas still in progress at the Film and Television Institute of India. In sum, the government has told the students that Gajendra Chauhan has been made chairman by due process and therefore his appointment cannot be challenged. But at NMML, the government has opted for the quick and dirty way, fielding the culture minister to force the director to quit. Apparently, Rangarajan had been given permanent tenure after the model code of conduct came into force for the 2014 general elections, despite the Election Commission’s directive to defer the matter until after the polls. The issue is simple and could have been addressed institutionally without a public hue and cry. The summary manner in which Rangarajan was sent packing shows yet again that institutions need to be insulated from the politics of the day.

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  1. Mahender Goriganti
    Sep 21, 2015 at 3:14 pm
    DO YOU MEAN MEDIA (ACADEMICS INCLUDED) SHOULD HAVE UNFETTERED ability to tell lies??
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    1. Narayanan Mahalingam
      Sep 22, 2015 at 11:19 am
      Pray tell us what use this Nehru museum is for? When the museum itself is useless, who cares who heads it.
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        Rajesh
        Sep 21, 2015 at 9:26 pm
        Oh please show some grace. Where were you when all the previous directors and heads of these insutions were hand picked by left leaning govts? Almost all articles are on replacement of insutional leads are just crocodile tears nothing else.
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          narayana
          Sep 21, 2015 at 10:21 am
          one sided article, how can you appoint anybody even after ECs direction against that too for 10 years, first condemn out-rightly do not brush under carpet. we are seeing what so called historians done in ICHR independence history projects, even after 35 years not able to produce/translate any one topic, but siphoned off crores of rupees & placed sycophants in positions. let us first purge the inefficiency in these insutions, then insulate from Nehru-hi family ecosystem.
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