Intellectuals too fight over worldly posts. On Monday, the executive council of Teen Murti — arguably India’s finest research library — discusses extending the term of historian Mridula Mukherjee as director. This comes after a full-blown academic attack on her.
More than 50 scholars like Ramachandra Guha, Sumit Sarkar and Mushirul Hasan recently wrote to the Prime Minister that the institution was “declining”. Ironically, many of the petitioners are based abroad.
The demand: deny the present director an extension.
Those siding with Mukherjee include historians Bipan Chandra and Satish Chandra, activists Aruna Roy and Medha Patkar and former Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh.
The government had appointed Mukherjee director without her asking for the post. This time — Guha’s letter to the PM says — there should be an “open, transparent” process. He too is believed to have been in the reckoning last time.
But here’s another twist. Guha himself was on a selection committee that had faced flak from the Lok Sabha’s Committee on Petitions for awarding Teen Murti fellowships to those who had not applied. This was before Mukherjee took charge.
Guha replied: “Academic committees have the liberty to consider outstanding scholars even where they have not formally applied.”
Transparency certainly is not the only issue in academic wars. Some of the charges against Mukherjee:
Charge 1: She favours the Congress.
Proof: Portraits of Congress PMs, Youth Congress meetings. But, the complainants don’t want to annoy the Congress either: “These Prime Ministers were figures of considerable importance, still….”
Mukherjee’s answer: “The Youth Congress hired our space.” Also, Left-leaning SAHMAT — named after Safdar Hashmi, a Communist killed by Congress activists — held programmes here. Leaders from even the BJP and the CPI(M) have been here.
Charge 2: Publications from Teen Murti are down. The journal Contemporary India and the brilliant weekly seminars have been stopped.
Mukherjee’s reply: The journal sold only 29 copies — of 500 published — in each of the last two years. The expenditure on such publications: Rs 3.5 lakh a year. There were 70 seminars since November 2006.
Charge 3: Too much is spent on irrelevant children’s events. Mukherjee’s reply: Indira Gandhi herself had wanted children’s functions — part of Teen Murti’s mandate — here.
So does the PM overturn the late Indira Gandhi’s judgment?
“From a centre of intellectual excellence and creativity, Teen Murti has become a place for tamashas, melas, and party propaganda,” Guha countered.
The irony: these Subaltern — a school of history where elite scholars claim to see the world through the eyes of the poor — Marxist and liberal warriors were once comrades-in-arms. That was when the NDA government was painting institutions saffron.
The return of a secular government is making them bicker over posts.