Action against a senior Mumbai University faculty member for his “objectionable remarks” against Rahul Gandhi sparked a political row on Tuesday.
Yogesh Soman, Director of Mumbai University’s Academy of Theatre Arts, has been sent on compulsory leave by the varsity following protests by members of Congress’s youth wing National Students Union of India (NSUI), All India Students Federation (AISF), and Chhatra Bharati.
On Monday, students of the theatre academy, with support from NSUI, AISF and Chhatra Bharati, staged a sit-in at the Kalina campus against the affairs of the theatre academy. The students were protesting till late night, after which registrar Ajay Deshmukh is learnt to have assured them of Soman’s compulsory leave. A letter to the students by Deshmukh also states that a fact-finding committee fill be formed to probe into Soman’s conduct, and a report sought within four weeks.
Despite attempts to contact him, Soman remained unavailable for comment.
Responding to the action againt Soman, BJP leader Ashish Shelar said: “It has been learnt that Congress and left wing students have threatened Yogesh Soman. Isn’t this an act of intolerance?”
गेल्या महिनाभरापासून मुंबई विद्यापीठात अभिनेते योगेश सोमण याच्या बाबतीत जे घडते आहे. त्यांना सक्तीच्या रजेवर पाठवण्याचा निर्णय घेणे, त्यांना काँग्रेस आणि डाव्या विद्यार्थी संघटनेने धमकावणे…या सगळ्या गोष्टी आता असहिष्णुतेत बसत नाही का? pic.twitter.com/BNpBDjHgYe
— Adv. Ashish Shelar – ॲड. आशिष शेलार (@ShelarAshish) January 14, 2020
Raising questions on freedom of expression, he further said, “For the past few days, dissatisfaction is being created among students of cultural and academic institutions, distancing them from education. Isn’t this intolerance?”
To this, Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant retorted, “Given the instances of intolerance we have been seeing in our country, no BJP member has the right to speak about intolerance. Speaking of Yogesh Soman, any government employee should refrain from political statements. This is the government’s rule. If Soman has been participating in political events, it’s at the behest of BJP. We are proud of NSUI for taking steps to save the Constitution. Sending him on compulsory leave is not sufficient. His conduct has shown that he is not adhering to the stipulations of the government.”
योगेश सोमण यांचा राजकीय उपयोग @BJP4Maharashtra करत होती. शासकीय पदावर कार्यरत असताना राजकीय मते मांडणे प्रशासकीय नियमांनुसार योग्य नाही. असे असताना जाणिवपूर्वक ते अशी मते मांडत होते. @NSUIMumbai चे आंदोलन लोकशाही बळकट करण्यासाठी होते. सोमण यांच्यावर चौकशी करून कारवाई झाली पाहिजे pic.twitter.com/Qg7YmFBZ5O
— Sachin Sawant (@sachin_inc) January 14, 2020
Chhatra Bharati said students have complaints against Soman’s handling of the theatre academy.
Apurva Ingle, first-year student of MA in theatre arts and cultural secretary of Chhatra Bharati, said, “We are not related to NSUI. We only want to request the VC that our new director should be appointed on the basis of a solid vision and reputed personality. Most of our faculty can’t teach. Soman has been recruiting his peers from Pune, where he hails from. He is unapproachable and unfriendly. We will continue to fight till Soman tenders his resignation.”
The academy has 85 students across both years, and 50 students enrolled for diploma in acting skills.
On December 14, Soman had posted a video on Facebook and Twitter, addressing Gandhi. The video was made after Gandhi at a rally said “I’m Rahul Gandhi, not Rahul Savarkar.” The Congress leader had said this after he was asked to apologise for his comments about “rape in India”.
In the video, Soman says: “You truly aren’t Savarkar. The truth is, you aren’t a true Gandhi either. You don’t have any of the values…” adding that he protests against “Gandhi’s Pappugiri”.
NSUI first protested against the 51-second video on December 24, with members of the outfit gheraoing the Vice-Chancellor’s office and submitting a memorandum. On December 28, the outfit filed a complaint against Soman at BKC police station. This was followed by a protest rally on January 9, where his effigy was burnt.
NSUI National Secretary Nikhil Kamble said, “Merely sending Soman on compulsory leave is not enough. He must be sacked from the director’s post immediately. Yogesh Soman has been appointed illegally and he does not conduct any lecture. Students have said that he has attempted to impose a particular ideology on them.”