A decision by IIT-Madras to derecognise a students’ body that allegedly criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought people out on the streets in protest on Friday but institute officials defended the move, saying the group violated guidelines.
Members from the Congress students’ wing shouted anti-government slogans outside HRD minister Smriti Irani’s house, demanding the action be revoked. Some were detained by police when they tried to break barricades. Protests were also reported in Chennai amid a storm of condemnation of the premier institute on Twitter.
The order came after the HRD ministry forwarded to the institute a complaint from some students about the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC), accusing it of creating “hatred” against Modi and whipping up protests against the Centre’s policies on the use of Hindi and the ban on beef.
Authorities said they carried out an inquiry following the complaint, which enclosed one of APSC’s pamphlets reproducing parts of a speech by Dravidian University professor RV Gopal that accused the government of favouring big business and criticised several bills. The pamphlet mentioned the ghar wapsi programme of Hindu groups and the ban on beef in some states.
The government distanced itself from the controversy, saying the technical institution was an autonomous body which took its own decisions.
“IITs being autonomous institutions, they are competent to handle matters within their guidelines and procedure. The HRD ministry had nothing to do with this except for forwarding the complaint received to director, IIT-Madras, for comments,” the ministry said.
The incident sparked a political fight on Twitter with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi alleging Irani and the BJP government were suppressing dissent. The minister hit back, daring Gandhi to a public debate.
The institution also issued a statement saying it does not curtail freedom of expression but expects student groups to adhere to guidelines. “The students group violated the guidelines of the IIT campus. The students will get a fair hearing after the institute reopens in August. IIT-Madras stands by its students,” dean of students Sivakumar M Srinivasan told the media.
The APSC denied allegations of inciting protests and said it was never given a chance to respond, accusing the administration of trying to stifle democratic voices. “We have not misused any privilege given to us by the institution — we have only tried holding a rational and progressive discussion about socio-economic policies which impact the common man,” said a member.
Inputs from Abhishek Saha