Independent thinking and free expression are now under threat in Indian universities, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the Presidency University bicentenary celebrations as he tore into the BJP government’s policies without naming the party.
“Regrettably independent thinking and free expression in Indian universities are now under threat. Political interference in university curriculum and academic appointments is highly short sighted,” said Singh in his 20-minute speech.
He was speaking at Derozio Hall on Friday noon. Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee were the two main speakers at the celebrations during the day.
On January 20, 1817 six persons of both the liberal and orthodox communities of the city got together to set up Hindoo College that eventually blossomed into Presidency College and subsequently Presidency University.
“Recent attempts to interfere with free expression of the student community in Hyderabad Central University and Jawaharlal Nehru University are of particular concern. Attempts to suppress peaceful dissent are not only inimical to learning but they are also undemocratic,” Singh said.
Starting from the demand of justice for Hyderabad University dalit scholar Rohith Vemula to the sedition case against Jawaharlal Nehru University students including Kanhaiya Kumar, central universities grabbed headlines in 2016 for reasons not related to academics.
“We are witnessing around the world a rise in new nationalist tendencies responding to populism and directing hatred against backward classes and minorities. These tendencies could be extremely dangerous. We must protect India from this trend. And universities have a vital role to play,” said the former Prime Minister.
Frequently described as a reluctant Prime Minister (2004-2014), Singh said that always wanted to become teacher but accidentally stepped into politics.
A brilliant student, he studied economics at Punjab University and then University of Cambridge.
Singh said that universities must give their students the freedom to pursue knowledge, even when that knowledge is at odds with established social and intellectual traditions.
“We must guard this freedom very zealously. We must make every effort to protect the autonomy of our universities and to foster the right of our students to express ideas that powerful interests may not always agree with,” he added.