Hemantkumar Shah, 60, who resigned as in-charge principal of HK Arts College in Ahmedabad after the college management declined permission to use its auditorium for a function where independent MLA Jignesh Mevani was invited as chief guest, was the national executive committee member of RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) till a decade ago.
Shah holds a postgraduate degree in political science and was associated with Jai Prakash Narayan’s Chhatralaya Sangharsh Vahini as a student. He has also worked as a journalist.
He says he stopped attending SJM’s meetings from 2008. “I was a core group member and a loved child of RSS since I was against liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation,” Shah recalls.
Elaborating on what prompted him to change his stand, he said, “The RSS body was biased and would only criticise UPA Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his policies but not speak a word against Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Narendra Modi and Shivraj Singh Chouhan. My thinking turned problematic for these people when I started vehemently voicing against Narendra Modi’s dictatorship in 2002-03,” he says.
Shah recalled that in 2001, he wrote an article in a vernacular newspaper criticising the then Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government’s Samras Yojana for panchayats.
“The morning the article was published, I received a call from the editor, asking me not to write anti-Modi articles for the time-being,” he says.
His close friends say that the 2002 Gujarat riots proved to be “turning point” for the academic. “Being a pure Gandhian, he was hurt by the way the 2002 riots were dealt with,” says an associate of Shah.
A journalist with 14 years of experience during which he worked with The Indian Express and Times of India groups, Shah has authored 55 books. His book ‘Sachhai Gujarat Ki’, which is critical of Gujarat’s development model under then CM Narendra Modi, released just before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and has sold the most among books penned by him.
He has also expressed views critical of the Gujarat government’s Sujalam Sufalam Yojana, a canal project for farmers, and been vocal on land rights of tribals and farmers.
In the past, he has been associated with several movements aimed at strengthening consumer protection. For 35 years, he was a member of Consumer Protection Council, Ahmedabad.
Shah was considered one of the strong contenders among three nominees for the post of Vice Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith, to which Prof Anamik Shah was eventually appointed.
His selection as in-charge principal of H K Arts College four months ago despite his critical views about the government had surprised many. Shah says he was given the responsibility because of “neutral” trustees of the college.
On allegations that his resignation was a publicity stunt as he was only a principal in-charge and had nothing to lose, Shah says, “I am already a public figure. Name one channel, local, national or international where I have not spoken as an expert and panelist. I am not seeking any political power. So how is this a publicity or even a political gimmick?”
He adds, “Even if the Congress comes to power, I will continue the same work…”