Mob sentiments -- and not academic or administrative qualifications -- may determine the Vice Chancellor of India's youngest central university.
Jammu and Kashmir chief secretary SS Kapur has written to the Union human resource development (HRD) ministry advising against the appointment of foreign policy expert Amitabh Mattoo as VC of Jammu central university.
Kapur has cited a report from the divisional commissioner, Jammu, to argue that Mattoo's appointment could trigger law and order concerns in a state where the political environment is already volatile, top government sources have told HT.
The divisional commissioner's report, sources said, cites street protests and petitions from little known Jammu-based groups who have been accusing Mattoo of "pro-separatist” leanings. Ironically Mattoo has in the past been described by other critics as too "pro-establishment."
The HRD ministry has not yet taken a final decision on whether to accept the chief secretary's advice, but may not find it easy to overlook law and order concerns – a subject on which it can take no independent view.
Mattoo, who was picked for the post of VC by a search-cum-selection committee may be gently nudged to withdraw his nomination unless the HRD ministry decides to go against the chief secretary's advice.
Government veterans here said they could not recall a single instance in the past when mob pressures influenced the position of VC of a central university. A VC is picked for his academic and administrative abilities alone.
"The allegations against me are baseless and deserve to be treated with contempt," Mattoo told HT, adding that the chief secretary's letter was "news" to him.
Mattoo, who now teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, has been VC of Jammu state university and became the first VC from the state to receive a Padma Shri in 2008. He is a leading foreign policy voice and is involved in track two diplomacy efforts between India and Pakistan.
Several Jammu groups have petitioned the President – Visitor to all central universities -- demanding that his proposed appointment as VC be rejected. Some organizations have even held street protests against Mattoo's nomination.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Jammu has also written to the President arguing that the local sentiment in the region is against Mattoo's appointment. The Chamber has argued that a local Jammu resident should be appointed VC.