(Written by Alifiya Nalwala)
Pune-based Modern College of Arts Science and Commerce withdrew an invite to Mahatma Gandhi’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi to address a national seminar, ‘Revisiting Gandhi’, on the college campus Friday reportedly following pressure from various right-wing organisations.
Gandhi on Thursday tweeted, “Modern College Pune was forced to cancel a program scheduled for tomorrow celebrating the 150th anniversary of Bapu because they invited me. Patitpavan Sanstha threatened to disrupt the program if I was present. The Goli Maro Gang in Action.”
The college, however, had organised the seminar as planned and had only withdrawn the invitation to Gandhi, who was the chief guest and keynote speaker.
College authorities admitted that they received letters from several organisations warning of “peaceful protests”. They said due to the ongoing practical examinations and the presence of over 1,000 students on campus, whose evacuation would pose a challenge if any violence broke out, they decided to call off the lecture.
The seminar, ‘Revisiting Gandhi’, was organised at Shivaji Nagar’s Modern College of Arts Science and Commerce on February 7 and 8, under the Quality Improvement Program (QIP) of the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU). Tushar Gandhi was invited to deliver a lecture during the seminar on Friday.
Late on Thursday, the invitation to Gandhi was withdrawn and the lecture was cancelled due to objections from a few right-wing and student organisations.
“On Tuesday afternoon, a few students approached principal Sanjay Kharat and showed a few video clips of Gandhi. They claimed that his speeches are politically inclined and could incite harsh sentiments in view of the current anti-CAA, NRC scenario. Since the seminar was organised with SPPU funds under QIP, they objected, saying university funds should not be used for events with a political flavour. At the same time, the same organisations and students approached the pro Vice-Chancellor, who also advised the college principal to proceed with caution and remain beware of untoward incidents,” said Gajanan Ekbote, chairman of the Progressive Education Society, which runs Modern College.
The college had received Rs 2.5 lakh under QIP to organise the seminar.
Ekbote said he has spoken to Gandhi and assured him the college would hold the same lecture within a week at its auditorium in Shivaji Nagar, using college funds. “Considering the threat from some organisations to disrupt the event, which would have created a security issue on college campus, and considering the students’ safety, we decided to postpone the lecture. Currently, practical examinations are going on and they can’t be disturbed, and it would not be possible to evacuate students if any law and order situation arises,” he said.
While college authorities claimed they had been advised by the SPPU pro V-C about the lecture, the latter denied the claims. “I was at the Mumbai University on Thursday and no student organisations met me. QIP funds are given to all selected colleges and college authorities decide the subject of the seminar and speakers. We have a committee which scrutinises the event, but we have not given any advice to them,” said N S Umrani, pro-VC, SPPU.
Even SPPU Vice-Chancellor Nitin Karmalkar denied the college’s claims. “We have nothing to do with either the organisation or the cancellation of the lecture… It is untrue that we advised calling off the event,” he said.
While the national seminar started as planned at Modern College on February 7, Gandhi said the organisers had told him that the event had been called off.
“I was lied to by the organisers. Ekbote called me up and told me that not just my speech, but the entire event has been called off. I was the chief guest and keynote speaker. They found a replacement for me and went ahead with the event. As an afterthought, they tell me they will organise my lecture. What for? Should I give the inaugural speech after the event? I don’t think I will be interested in the invitation anymore, given the dishonesty shown by the organisers,” he told The Indian Express.
State Minister Jitendra Awhad Friday said it was “ridiculous” and “unfortunate” to not allow Tushar Gandhi to speak at the event. Awhad said he had raised the issue with state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, who took prompt action, which sent out a clear message to “anti-democratic” forces that they will be given a fitting reply by the (state) government.
—With PTI inputs
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines