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India’s Universities Lack the Freedom to Excel

The abrupt resignation of an economics professor from a prestigious private university has highlighted concerns about academic freedom in India. The country will never be a “vishwaguru” (teacher to the world), as Prime Minister Narendra Modi often boasts, unless the government stops silencing dissenting voices.

GENEVA – Since enacting the National Education Policy 2020, India has sought to position itself as a twenty-first-century knowledge hub featuring globally competitive institutions of higher education. But the abrupt resignation of a young economist from one of the country’s most prestigious universities, and the subsequent campus revolt over his exit, casts doubt on India’s ability to realize this ambition.

In July, Sabyasachi Das, an assistant professor at Ashoka University, released a working paper alleging irregularities in India’s 2019 general election. The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, suggested that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a disproportionate share of closely contested constituencies because of electoral manipulation – namely, the selective culling of Muslims from voter rolls.

To be sure, Das notes that the purported irregularities did not affect the outcome of the vote; the BJP won by a landslide. But given that Modi’s party promotes a strident form of Hindu nationalism and views India’s Muslim minority as electorally irrelevant, the specter of electoral tampering is troubling.

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