Hours before the 68th annual covocation of the Gujarat Vidyapith, nine out of 24 trustees resigned citing “unethical use of power” for the appointment of Governor Acharya Devvrat as Chancellor, stating that it was “under crass political pressure” and appealed to the Governor to “uphold democratic values” by declining the offer.
In a joint statement, the nine trustees said that the appointment of Devvrat as the new Chancellor “was rushed through, not by consensus but by a badly fractured vote”, adding that “Gandhi’s philosophy cannot be reduced to mere natural farming, cattle breeding or nature cure”, referring to the election of a non-Gandhian to the top post.
Appealing to Devvrat, the trustees said, “We humbly appeal to the newly selected Chancellor, that as you would be aware of the circumstances of your selection. It was neither spontaneous nor the unanimous decision of the Board of Trustees. It was under crass political pressure. It was in total disregard of Gandhi’s values, methods and practices. How can that do credit to your honour and dignity? Your Excellency, to uphold the fundamental values of democracy and transparent autonomous decision-making you have the opportunity to set an example by declining to take charge as Chancellor…”
However, the trustees added, “We do this without anger, without malice towards any individual, and with the utmost humility…”
The trustees who resigned are Narsihbhai Hathila, Dr Sudarshan Iyangar, Dr Anamik Shah, Mandaben Parikh, Uttambhai Parmar, Chaitanya Bhatt, Neetaben Hardikar, Michael Mazgaonkar and Kapil Shah. An official statement by the Vidyapith, however, stated that the resignation of eight trustees has not been accepted.
In a statement, the Gujarat Vidyapith stated, “A resolution was passed with majority not to accept the resignation of these eight trustees.” The ninth name in the joint statement but missing from Vidyapith’s official statement is Narsinhbhai Hathila.
However, Vidyapith’s statement said, “Lifetime trustee of Gujarat Vidyapith Narsinhbhai Hathila, too, was present in this meeting and he supported not accepting the resignation.”
The nine trustees had expressed dissent over Vidyapith’s move to offer its chancellorship to 63-year-old Devvrat at a marathon meeting of its Governing Council as well. The Governor accepted the offer when a delegation of the Council met him at the Raj Bhavan on October 11.
After accepting the invitation by the delegation, including Vice-Chancellor Rajendra Khimani and Registrar Nikhil Bhatt, the Governor had told The Indian Express that he felt “fortunate and proud” to join an institute established by a great personality like Mahatma Gandhi.
Alleging “unreasonable demands” made by certain officials, the joint statement stated, “These ranged from the appointee must not be an adherent of a certain religion, he must not be opposed to a certain individual; to a minister and party people… stating that, ‘Vidyapith’s representations will be heard only if Mr X is appointed as the Chancellor’… Thus were the terms of the oral bargain outlined to undermine the institution’s autonomy. That was unprecedented in its 102-year history. As a result, an issue as important as appointment of the Chancellor was rushed through, not by consensus but by a badly fractured vote….”
Dr Mandaben Parikh, one of the trustees who resigned, told The Indian Express, “All the recent developments are against the independence of the institution’s morality. Gandhi’s heritage is not of a few people but of the nation.”
Adding that the original constitution that Gandhiji formulated for Gujarat Vidyapith stipulated that it would not accept government grants, the joint statement said, “However, to bring its courses into alignment with officially recognised courses, Vidyapith acceded to UGC rules in 1963 on condition that Government would not interfere with its autonomy. Vidyapith is now completely dependent on Government grants, yet it strives to operate in consonance with the principles laid down by Gandhi and his co-founders…”
The statement said, “The real essence lies in the courage to say ‘No, Sir’ in pursuit of truth and non-violence, doing one’s utmost to uphold the value of equal respect to all religions, preservation of democratic values, civil liberties, institutional autonomy and against kowtowing to Government diktats. Gandhi is incomplete without these. We trust that they will atone for the mistake they made whether out of fear, temptation or as a part of deal…”
Citing that the Vidyapith Trust has deployed its own funds to pay salaries of the trustees despite the “Government not fulfilling its liabilities which amounts in crores of rupees”, the statement said, “We believe that the impugned decision was made to save the body of the institution, divorced from its soul, and all values and principles were sacrificed at the alter of expediency… What has happened is indeed, sad, shocking, and unbecoming for an institution with such pedigree.”
The trustees also mentioned about the lacunae in managing the Vidyapith and said that the over 150 letters written by the Vidyapith to the authorities have remained unacknowledged.
On the timing of the resignation ahead of convocation on Tuesday, Dr Parikh said that it was under discussions and took some time. “We were in discussions, preparing for this but because with other activities and trustees being in different cities, it took us some time to prepare the statement,” she said.
Terming that the government’s action is not just unethical use of power but is anti-democratic and a disgrace to any government in a free society, the trustees said they “condemn it in the strongest possible terms”.
Blaming the trustees and staff who were “hand-in-glove” with this move to have brought Vidyapith to great “disrepute on the world stage”, the trustees stated that they have a “lot to answer for” and asked if they have “abandoned Gandhian values”.