Intellectual Dilemma

I am talking about Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Param Bir Singh. Both were chief executives; one belonged to a university, and the other was the chief of the state’s police department. Both were highly ranked in their respective areas. One resigned, and the other was shunted. Both the cases are disturbing us in different ways.

Take the case of Param Bir Singh. I recently read an article by Julio Ribeiro, ex-Mumbai police commissioner. He believes, “Mumbai Police was a good force. It never failed to perform when properly led. Much depends on the leader, a wrong choice ensures downward slide.” This raises the question – Why are wrong choices made? Is it because the appointments are made on political considerations, and not on the basis of merit? “If the choice is based on money exchanged or to be exchanged in future, corruption and injustice take a similar trajectory. …. To my mind, both choices are anti-national,” writes Ribeiro. He says the appointments are made contrary to the norms laid by The National Police Commission. These appointments are supposed to be made in consultation with the chief minister, the leader of the opposition, and the Chief Justice of the State High Court. The Home Minister plays a critical role in this selection. If the norms are not followed while appointing the police commissioner of a state, it is a matter for grave public concern. When a wrong choice is made, the whole team collapses. The good cops don’t know what to do. The bad cops rule the state. Param Bir Singh was appointed after a long discussion with the top bosses. One of the outcomes of bad administration is the appearance of Waze’s with unlimited powers. As we know, an assistant police inspector (API) was appointed as head of the Crime Intelligence Unit in the Crime Branch and was directly reporting to the commissioner of police. This minor police official alleged to have the audacity to confront India’s biggest industrialist. Can he do this without the help of political patronage? In politics, one is not expected to be a saint, but one is also not expected to be so vindictive. The country is in imminent danger. We, the people of India, need to know much more. The issue is much bigger than money extortion.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta was the Vice Chancellor of Ashoka University. He resigned as VC, continued as Professor of the University. Recently he resigned as Professor of the university, on the grounds of becoming a ‘political liability’ of the university. In this context, R Jagannathan, in one of his recent articles, raised an important issue. “Founders of such institutions should know that the most important decision to be made while creating such institutions is not to define what they are set up for, but who should do the job.” Founders first need to choose the right person to drive the institution. The person should know what the institution is set up for. If the person understands that, only then the person can steer the institute successfully. A driver who knows the address can only drive the bus to the proper destination. It is not enough only to become a good driver. One must know the address. Even if your bus is filled with the right people, and you don’t know the address of the destination, you can’t take your bus to the right destination. In this case, the founders of Ashoka asked Mehta to get off the bus, after so many years of association. Either Mehta was the wrong choice for the objectives this institution was built, or the choice was left to him that subsequently was not acceptable to the university. Management is kinetics & thermodynamics, material & energy balance. With time everything changes. It is a zero-sum game. Writes Jagannathan, “This is the trap many promoters of many institutions tend to fall in: they think more about big names, names which may carry clout with global institutions. They risk their money and make “safe choices” which will sound acceptable to the global elite.” A well-known name is a safe choice, but not always. A well-known name comes with her/his mind and that is more often than not unbendable. Safe organizations want safe leaders. When these ‘safe’ leaders begin to take risks, they become ‘unsafe’ for the founders. After all they have put a lot of money into the enterprise. Safe leader for the founders is the one who delivers. The private institutions follow commercial yardsticks. And that becomes another point of contention in academic institutions. I don’t know what the founders of this university wanted when they began. They now certainly want to be friendly with the powers to be. One can take a calculated risk, if there are chances of change in the power system. If that seems not visible, why take risks. Diversity helps, but if the founders are too diverse, it results in chaos. Jagannathan asks a very pertinent question - Wasn’t the tragedy of Mehta’s ultimate departure not foretold in his selection itself? Some public intellectuals are intolerant. They think they only have the right to oppose. Their detailed investigations are confined to their side only. The question remains – who should head institutions like Ashoka – unbendable intellectuals or flexible non-intellectuals? Every side has another side. Badri Raina asks - whether outstandingly truthful intellectuals ever seek to be part of institutions whose commitment, however trumpeted, to the freedom of thought remains questionable. He considers Mehta’s resignation ‘silencing of the voice of conscience’. Mehta's voice rooted in impeccable scholarship and uncompromised human concern. He thinks the university has lost a valued liberal thinker. He believes that Mehta’s dilemma will be helpful to the students’ intellectual growth. Mehta will not teach. But one will continue to read Mehta. It is we who will decide if it is a social loose talk. It is we who will decide if we want to have more of JNU’s. I often wonder if the left and the right are genetically different, or it is only the environment that makes one a right or a left.