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Up against the saffron brigade

Yambem Laba |

Manipur University is today dead. Whether the central university is brain dead or comatose is a matter of opinion but the fact remains that it is on life support. The university has been paralysed for the last 60 days with the Administrative Block shut down, all classes and examinations cancelled as all head of departments of the various units have tendered their resignations along with all the officers except for a registrar-in-charge.

The students, faculty and em-ployees of the university are united with the common cause of removing the vice-chancellor. The matter is going out of hand as all colleges are also on the verge of boycotting their classes in solidarity. A panicky BJP government in the state has viewed the situation as so disturbing that it had suspended the availability of mobile Internet facilities blaming social media for the situation.

When the Manipur University Students Union launched its move to dislodge Professor Adya Prasad Pandey from the post of vice chancellor, little did they realise that they would be taking the bull of the saffron brigade by its horns. There was no way the Sangh Parivar would be going back on the meticulously carried out move to introduce Hindutva among Manipuris. A majority of the state’s inhabitants became Hindus some 400 years ago through a Bengali missionary called Santidas Gosai who used fire and sword to spread Hinduism with the help of then King Pamheiba. But the Manipuri Meiteis follow a distinct brand of Hinduism retaining its centuries old pre-Hindu tribal roots alongside newly-found Hindu traditions including the classical Manipuri Ras Leela dance. And with the post of the vice-chancellor of Manipur University vacant, they thought that they had made the right move at the most opportune time.

Pandey was just 20 days away from his date of superannuation of 65 years when he was appointed vice-chancellor. It is not known whether a search committee was involved in his selection but it gave him a new lease of life after he assumed charge on

26 October 2016 for five years.

Apart from his not-too-distinct a career as a faculty member of the department of economics at Banaras Hindu University, he had with him a string of political credentials. First, he was based in Banaras, the place from where Prime Minister Narendra Modi got elected. Second and more importantly, his wife Veemla is a leader of the women’s front of the ruling BJP — she is the national vice president of the party’s Mahila Morcha. She is said to be a blood relative of BJP strongman and the Union home minister Rajnath Singh and a “rakhi sister” of Modi. Thus, she holds a firm position not only in the Prime Minister’s constituency but also in the national setup of the BJP. Perhaps the VC posting was given to Pandey as a reward for services rendered or as an agent general of the Sangh Parivar.

Pandey soon made his position clear to Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh and his group of ministers, who are at best, neo-converts to the BJP fold. He got himself declared as a “Y” Category security threat and began moving around in an armoured SUV followed by a horde of security forces drawn from the CRPF and not the Manipur Rifles, as was done by former VCs.

He started arriving late in office and stayed up till late in the night receiving visitors including ladies seeking political alms and favours. He also frequently moved out of the state on unannounced visits to Delhi and Banaras, which sometimes lasted for two to three weeks. It soon became clear that he was running a parallel administration out of his office at Canchipur in the Manipur University complex.

The first slip came when, after assuming office, he gifted Rs two lakh to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarathi Parishad, the students’ wing of the BJP. Then he awarded Rs 25 crore to a firm in Lucknow for the installation of smart classrooms in the university.

Thereafter was the award of another contract — the supply of university examination answer scripts at Rs 25 per script from another firm in Lucknow against the old rate of Rs 5 per script, which were supplied by a local firm. Now that the agitating students are saying that both the Lucknow firms are controlled by his family members.

Then in March this year, the 105th Indian Science Congress was held in Manipur University which Modi himself attended. But according to a senior professor of the University, while everyone saw the Prime Minister coming, nobody noticed Pandey’s son also descending on Imphal at the same time. He had apparently arrived to supervise a major business deal, which his father had worked out for him, in connection with the Science Congress. And that apparently was the last straw on the camel’s back.

Soon the rumbles started, first with the Manipur University Students’ Union asking for his ouster. They were soon joined by the Manipur University Teacher’s Association and the Manipur University Staff Association.

The Muta initially tried to meditate after they met the Governor, who is the Rector, and the chief minister, who urged the VC to meet the agitating students but Pandey remained adamant stating that he would not resign and felt there was no need to meet them.

In the meantime, the Union ministry of human resource development deputed a joint secretary to study the situation and although he met representatives of the Musu, the Muta was kept out. Things took a turn for the worse when volunteers of the Democratic Students Association of Manipur tried to storm the Raj Bhawan to demand an end to the MU crisis, which had, by then, begun to look like spoiling the career of thousands of students across the state and in the police action that followed, a leader was grievously hurt.

Then Pandey and Biren Singh simultaneously stated that the head of departments had tendered their resignation at the behest of insurgent groups. The chief minister, while explaining his inability to solve the crisis, revealed that an insurgent group had served the VC with a demand note of Rs five crore.

Such statements further infuriated students and they called for a 48-hour general strike on 18 and 19 July, which had a crippling effect on the state. On the 19 July, evening thousands of Manipuri women, armed with flaming torches, began converging towards Imphal from all sides. They were halted by the police in strong force and rained down hundreds of tear gas shells and mock bombs and it seemed that the whole of Imphal city would burn for the sake of a vice-chancellor who simply will not quit.

Then it appeared that chief minister Biren Singh’s nerves gave away. Sensing strong public apathy towards his administration, he ordered his special secretary (home) to suspend Internet services over the mobile phone network to shut down Facebook and WhatsApp, blaming them as carriers of misinformation and misleading news. It is not known if he had requested the VC to step down or not but at the moment round one seemed to have gone in Pandey’s favour. The Union HRD ministry had in the meantime constituted an Inquiry Committee headed by a former Acting Chief Justice of the Meghalaya High Court and also consisting of two top HRD and UGC officials. Liberals are of the view that it should not seem the VC has been hanged by a mob but must be allowed to face the Inquiry Committee.

Manipur University, which came into existence as a state university in 1980, saw a year-long agitation to remove the first vice-chancellor

T Ratho where students lost a whole academic year. The MU has, of late, become a den of corruption and favouritism and Pandey’s predecessor, Professor HNK Sharma, a local academic, is today facing a CBI probe on charges of corruption. Another former VC who later became a Congress MLA, Ng Bijoy Singh and then registrar RK Ranjan Singh, were shot in their legs by an insurgent group. The incident, according to some, was related to the award of contract works in the MU campus.

But all said and done, it is hoped that the university will emerge in a cleaner atmosphere both academically as well as financially. Pandey has reiterated his stance that he will not resign under any circumstances. On the other hand, Mayanglangbam Dayanda Singh, president of the Musu told The Statesman, “There is no going back for us now till the VC goes” but that doesn’t seem likely in the near future.

The final question that needs to be asked from Pandey is, his political ties with the BJP and Sangh Parivar notwithstanding, will he have the moral courage to remain in office for the rest of his term even if he gets a clean chit in the probe against him?

 

The writer is the Imphal-based special representative of The Statesman