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College principal asks students to ‘choose well’, stirs row

Many academicians and experts have criticised Mascarenhas’s move as they feel it is likely to influence student voters.

Written by Dipti Singh | Mumbai |
April 23, 2014 1:15:56 am

A n email by the principal of Mumbai’s prestigious St Xavier’s college at Dhobi Talao to all his students, asking them to ‘choose well’ in the Lok Sabha elections, has raised eyebrows in the academic fraternity. The article by Father Frazer Mascarenhas openly criticises the Gujarat model of governance.

Many academicians and experts have criticised Mascarenhas’s move as they feel it is likely to influence student voters, which they say is “wrong on the part of an educationist”.

Mascarenhas has not just emailed the article to his students, but has also uploaded it on the college’s website. The article says: “So what lessons does a reflection on the approaching elections teach us? The prospect of an alliance of a corporate capital and communal forces coming to power constitutes a real threat to the future of our secular democracy.” He then appealed to the students to “choose well”.

When approached, Mascarenhas said, “The Gujarat model is being touted and is being talked about by media and discussed in public forums. I just gave my students a few considerations based on that. As a teacher of development studies, it is my responsibility to show them the clear picture. Nowhere in the article have I named any political leader or party. Yes, it may influence my students, but for good, as all that I have written is based on facts. After reading and understanding these considerations, they will be able to make their own choice.”

The article further states:  “The approaching elections have brought interesting discussions to the public forum on what constitutes human development and how it is to be achieved. The Gujarat model has been highlighted for our consideration. Gujarat may be doing well in the first sense, although not as good as some other states in the country. But all the human development index indicators and the cultural polarisation of the population show that Gujarat has had a terrible experience in the last 10 years.”

In his article Mascarenhas also points out that schools for an ordinary populace show abject neglect with a very high dropout rate in Gujarat in last 10 years. Furthermore, higher education has not been allowed to move forward, the article states.

Mascarenhas, who teaches development studies, further says that Gujarat has also been the worst performer in settling claims and distributing title deeds to tribal people and other forest dwellers, as shown by the latest data put out by the union Tribal Affairs Ministry. Till 2013, the state, with 15 per cent of tribal population, settled only 32 per cent of claims, which is the lowest rate in the country.

Senior educationist and former pro vice-chancellor of Mumbai University A D Sawant said, “It comes as a shock to me that a principal as senior as Father Mascarenhas can do something like this. It is a grant-in-aid college and a principal or even a teacher cannot take a stand like this. They have to stand neutral and that is their responsibility. Even if he has not taken names of any political leader of political party, the article is likely to influence students.”

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