Tuesday, December 6, 2022
HomeOpinionWhat institutions like Ashoka University forget when hiring a Pratap Bhanu Mehta

What institutions like Ashoka University forget when hiring a Pratap Bhanu Mehta

If you choose a PB Mehta or a Ramachandra Guha, you are effectively choosing other faculty who vibe well with their own ideas, not those who challenge you.

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The exit of Pratap Bhanu Mehta from Ashoka University for being a “political liability” to the institution should prompt the founders of the university – and all future founders of such institutions – to rethink their basics. They 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.

Jim Collins, author of Good To Great, has formulated this simple credo, “First Who, then What”. So, regardless of whether you ultimately decide to set up a “liberal arts and sciences” institution or one dedicated to some neutral value like “deeper learning”, you first need to decide who will be the right people to drive the institution towards success.

Here is a key excerpt from Collins’ book:

“The executives who ignited the (institutional) transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it. They said, in essence, ‘Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great’.”

If, after many years of association with Ashoka, the institution has had to ask Mehta to get off the bus, clearly the founders, trustees and managing angels did not give much thought to who should be the key drivers of the institution they were putting good money in.

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 – in this case, the Left-liberal elite in Ivy League institutions abroad.


Also read: Circumstances around Ashoka exit won’t change for foreseeable future, says Pratap Bhanu Mehta


This happened with Krea University too, where they opted for Ramachandra Guha for a history position, when they had other options. It is easy to pick a Guha who is well known, and a safe choice. It is tougher to get a better historian who does not have blinkers and will genuinely promote diverse readings of history.

What the founders of such institutions fail to do is understand the ecosystem in which these chosen “safe” leaders have to deliver. If you choose someone who has it in for the government or the newly emergent power elite in India, you are going to be fighting the wrong battles all the time.

What Ashoka needed was a leadership team that was ideologically diverse, and not an echo chamber of the Lutyens Left-Liberal elite. This is not to suggest that Leftist or centrist faculty must be deliberately excluded, but where is the proof that Ashoka is populated by a genuinely diverse faculty and a top leadership that even reflects the ideological diversity among the founders?

The founders and investors include every type from Left liberals like businessperson Anu Aga to right-wing high net worth individuals like Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. The founders are more diverse than the institution itself.

The tendency to make safe “Left-liberal” choices is – one suspects – a form of business self-preservation. If you are running a business in a country where the law cannot be guaranteed to protect your money or your rights, you will court the Left.

Reason: it is a covert form of protection money. The right-wing is anyway pro-business, and won’t try to damage business, but the Left can and will if it does not get what it wants. So, why not put money in institutions that provide them with sinecures and keeps them out of mischief? Of course, no businessperson will readily admit that this is why he backs Left-liberals, but it needs to be said.


Also read: There have been lapses, says Ashoka University in joint statement with Mehta & Subramanian


But the simple point the founders should have thought about is this: is a fledgling institution like Ashoka best served by some respected, competent and lower-profile individual, or someone like a Mehta, who has taken very strong – and always negative – positions against the government and the Prime Minister? Wasn’t the tragedy of Mehta’s ultimate departure not foretold in his selection itself?

Who else would write that laws he disagreed with should be overturned on the streets, and not through the courts?

Mehta wrote in a column in Indian Express, soon after the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed in December 2019: “If our entire public discourse is pervaded by an exaggerated bogey of illegal immigration, don’t expect the court to call the bluff on a discriminatory NRC. This is why it will be a mistake to rely just on the Supreme Court. The political challenge is to make sure that one party’s diabolical version of what is reasonable is not mistaken to be common sense. It will require using the BJP’s tactics: Political and ideological mobilisation outside the law to convey the sense that Indian citizens will not stand for a Republic that is discriminatory, fearful and panders to its own worst instincts. Only then may even the judges move.” (italics mine)

Look at how Mehta has reframed the argument. A bill to expedite citizenship to persecuted minorities has been reduced to NRC and an “exaggerated bogey of illegal immigration”. If there is a presumption that the Narendra Modi government’s stance on giving early citizenship to persecuted minorities from three neighbours is a “diabolical version of what is reasonable”, one has to wonder what is “reasonable” by the definition of a public intellectual like Mehta.

And does Mehta stop to ponder how one person’s definition of what is reasonable can be misused by everyone to decide that unlawful pressure exerted by street mobs is the only way forward? How can any public intellectual justify this kind of statement? Mehta’s beliefs go far beyond mere criticism of the government of the day to what is an indirect call for street violence.


Also read: ‘Grievous blow to free speech’ — Raghuram Rajan on Pratap Mehta’s exit from Ashoka University


However, Mehta’s position is not inconsistent with the general Left-liberal intellectual’s comfort with calls for violence to speed up societal change. In his book Intellectuals, author Paul Johnson demonstrates how the world’s best-known public intellectuals, mostly Left-liberals, had dubious moral and judgmental credentials, and probably unfit to “give advice to humanity on how to conduct its affairs.”

Johnson did this by examining the intellectuals’ own personal lives, and how they dealt with family, friends and associates. From Jean-Jacques Rousseau (“an interesting madman”) to Karl Marx, whose ideas led to mass murders of the most macabre kind in all the countries that followed his dictums, to Jean Paul Sartre, Bertolt Brecht and Noam Chomsky, not one intellectual who advocated radical societal transformation was anywhere near being even a decent individual in his or her personal life.

Most were womanisers, and some were plain violent, intolerant and/or lacking in basic human conscience.

This is not at all to suggest that Mehta is in the same category or in any sense morally deficient. Absolutely not. But we must emphasise that those advocating some idealised versions of democracy or change are usually intolerant in some way or the other.

What one needs to underline is the ultimate tyranny of making the “safe choice”, which may sound enticing in the beginning, but ultimately leads to intellectual atrophy, cancel culture, and echo chambers.

If you choose a Pratap Bhanu Mehta or a Ramachandra Guha, you are effectively choosing other faculty who vibe well with their own ideas, not those who disagree and challenge you. It is best to use non-intellectuals to head universities like Ashoka, and let them decide who to get onto the bus, and who to offload.

The author is Editorial Director, Swarajya. Views are personal.

The article was first appeared in Swarajya.

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58 COMMENTS

  1. I couldn’t agree more with the author.

    The left is an echo chamber. You just have to read the protesting comments here.

    Universities are places where you need to confront ideas with people who share diverging views not places where you are solely taught that you have a moral superiority over those with whom you disagree and should work “outside of the law” to force your views on others

    For more than sixty years, the povertarian left that liked to discourse on the poor while living in the chic quarters of Delhi and Kolkatta decided what was right and wrong. Losing their power makes them more agressive.

  2. I don’t think I’ll be able to trust The Print any more. I did have an inkling over many months that opinions shared on this platform are more and more right wing views. This article has finally revealed why: Business!

    So, Gupta ji has decided to focus on ensuring his bread and butter at the cost of journalism. It’s not as blatant as Goswami but still on the path to serious journalistic compromise. Divergent views are fine, not propaganda.

    The views shared in the article surely are completely stupid, but even more strange is the quality of writing. Until half way through the article it was difficult to make out what the author is trying to say.

    The stupidity I mentioned is the usual RW ‘interpretation of convenience’. The narrow-minded extremist read books selectively and concoct a meaning that’s convenient for their mindset. The same brain defect makes them ignore the flaws of their heroes. Heroes eventually become Gods for them. The same selectiveness makes their traditions, religion, community so revered that they are followed and supported blindly. That’s not democracy. The author should know that no democracy is complete without liberal thinking. All RW views lead to nothing but Fascism.

    • “All RW views lead to nothing but Fascism”?

      And how did you get to that conclusion? Communism was an anti-bougeoisie movement that aimed to uplift millions of poor workers from poverty. It resulted in authoritanism, genocide and gross human rights violations.

      Partition itself was a so-called solution to prevent the muslim minority of south asia to live under “Hindu majoritarianism”

      And what is right wing and left wing anymore? Is a Uniform Civil Code right wing if it guarantees equal rights to women in marriage, divorce and succession? If it opens marriage to same sex couples?

      Is abrogating the autonomy of Kashmir right wing if it allows for the application of Indian laws similarly everywhere?

      Don’t give yourself a moral superiority you never had. Noone is being fooled here.

      If you follow Mehta’s words and go for violence on the streets to force the government to back down, there is no reason why those who disagree with you won’t do the same when the BJP will no more be in power. Your hypocrisy is visible for all to see

  3. I don’t think I’ll be able to trust The Print any more. I did have an inkling over many months that opinions shared on this platform are more and more right wing views. This article has finally revealed why: Business!

    So, Gupta ji has decided to focus on ensuring his bread and butter at the cost of journalism. It’s not as blatant as Goswami but still on the path to serious journalistic compromise. Divergent views are fine, not propaganda.

    The views shared in the article surely are completely stupid, but even more strange is the quality of writing. Until half way through the article it was difficult to make out what the author is trying to say.

    The stupidity I mentioned is the usual RW ‘interpretation of convenience’. The narrow-minded extremist read books selectively and concoct a meaning that’s convenient for their mindset. The same brain defect makes them ignore the flaws of their heroes. Heroes eventually become Gods for them. The same selectiveness makes their traditions, religion, community so revered that they are followed and supported blindly. That’s not democracy. The author should know that no democracy is complete without liberal thinking. All RW views lead to nothing but Fascism.

  4. Article from person who’s twitter says

    “Absolutely right. Let companies buy vaccines at commercial rates and let anyone walk in for a jab. Also, clear up foreign vaccines like Sputnik fast so that availability increases.”

    There is a saying in Kannada literally translated “person with donkey in his plate was searvhong for flies in others plate” – hypocracy/bigotry.

    No matter how ducked up the ruling right is and does much worst things than the things this article mentions about left, This author chooses to ignore all that and manages to blame left.

    Not surprised by prints decision to publish this. Take one more step back away from this site.

  5. Shekar Gupta’s khaki Knickers is finally showing. Also, why this button for Support Journalism when all your buttons have already been pressed by Mr. Bhagwat himself.

  6. A BIG ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR The PRINT! PLEASE PUBLISH AN ARTICLE ON HOW TO BE A TURNCOAT. SHEKAR MUST WRITE THAT. ALSO, PLEASE REMOVE THAT SUPPORT JOURNALISM BUTTON WHEN ALL YOUR BUTTONS HAVE ALREADY BEEN PRESSED BY MR. BHAGWAT HIMSELF.

  7. Jagannath has read one book, ‘Good to Great’. Other than that nothing makes any logical sense or has any intellectual merit. What a dumb response to the exit of an intellectual mind. The Print has let me down.

  8. Felt like reading a article from government’s lapdog media. Pratap bhanu used to write against congress too, but was never targeted this way. The job of any respectful citizen is the hold to judgement the decisions of government. Your loyally should be towards country and not towards government. Any major change is always brought upon by those who highlight the problem, not by those who are always complacent and indifferent in the hope of getting petty recognition from the powers that be. Any voice that is against bjp is being targeted. Disha ravi, Dr. Kafeel, mandeep punia all were framed on flimsy grounds which was later dismissed in courts. The author argues for diversity and yet is okay with government running after dissenters like rabid dog. The author explains character of left wingers as if right wingers are flawless and epitome of morality. Surely godse can give a better direction to India. No doubt india is falling in democracy index. Both bjp and its laptops are to be blamed.

  9. I think the author is totally silly to sign off with this:

    It is best to use non-intellectuals to head universities like Ashoka University.
    ffs, it is a liberal arts institution and it should be led by an non-intellectual statement is as inane as it gets.

  10. Mr.Jagannathans comment is typical upper caste right
    Wingers and sadly for all the erudition he try’s to
    Put into the article to gloss over the ills of leftwing
    Lutyens liberals does not do away with the fact of
    An Indian cultural revolution/ purge/or anti propaganda against the current right wing thinktank
    Ideology doesnt address the fact in a diverse country like India with a rainbow like vibrant diverse intellectual opinions trying to reverse the seven colors back through the prism into a single ” white light”
    ( read the elitist right wing upper class) trying to ram down the throat of the nation what is RIGHT.UNFORTUNATELY THE NUMBERS
    WONT ADD UP .IF ALL THE VOICES ARE CONTAINED AND A CULTURAL REVOLUTION AKIN TO CHINAS IN 1960 S IS FORCED UNLIKE CHINA AT THAT TIME ,THE DISCERNING EDUCATED
    LARGE INDIAN MIDDLE CLASS WILL BE THE GORDIAN KNOT FOR THE RIGHT WINGERS TO
    UNRAVEL.

  11. Leaders appointed to build an academic institution should have a combination of high intellect, powers of persuasion and administrative acumen. An unerring academic vision (not just a networked individual) that set standards for academic activity, a vision that attracts young and mid career active faculty that can build its future credential and unremitting academic standards that are attractive to students and add value to their time spent there. There are enough examples from the past of titans who laid the foundation for a good institution with a combination of academic leadership and administrative skills (Kelkar-IIT Kanpur, Mahalanobis – ISI Kolkata etc.) whose legacy survives to the day. It is not that these great academic institution builders did not n have personal views on shaping the world or personal preferences. But they were aware of never mixing up platforms and isolating the personal from the institutional. Never confuse the purpose the institution hired you for and chose a platform that suits your goal. That will be professional.

  12. It is quite surprising that The Print has even allowed/chose to include an article from a writer on a RW magazine like Swarajya. In fact as I read thriugh the article I was checking again and again that it is in indeed The Print I am reading.

    • I also had high opinion of The Print but am really shocked to see such a trash being published by it ! According to this writer only sycophants , who can toe the line of the party in power , are to head institutions of higher learning ! There may be no place for unbiased and free thinking people of high caliber in such institutions !

      • It is good that many dullard Lefties are getting riled up at the mere publication of an article with a different take on the riddance of PBM. PBM was avocating street violence to bring about his pet revolutionary fantasies to fruition. He was preaching that Marxist historiography was scientific. He either has not read Karl Popper or is not bright enough to understand philosophy.

  13. Factual article ,thanks for revealing the truth ,with best wishes

  14. This articles makes sense. True liberals will be open to all the views and someone who just pushes own views as ultimate version of truth is a fake.
    Media is definitely in lap of such fakes.
    We should be careful of such media, liberals as they stitch narratives based on words of wisdom of such fakes and try to corner the government using undemocratic means.

  15. Very succinctly pointed. Echoed my own thoughts.
    Even if Raghuraman says that this episode smirks of undemocratic functioning, he is also having blinkered perspective.

  16. This author’s principle that “First Who, Then What” is really flawed. The ‘What’s of a person defines the ‘Who’ or that person. And the ‘What’s is a variable, it keep on changing with time and circumstances. A person’s overall thought-process is different in childhood, youth, and old-age. Even a person’s mental state is clouded under anger, duress, attachments, under the influence of sex, or simply due to egoism. So it’s the ‘What’ which should define whether an act or thought is good or bad. The principle of “First Who, Then What” is not at all progressive or futuristic, it actually worships only the past and the dead.

  17. Not necessarily, the author thinks that every one in a university should have the same opinion. One nation, one opinion? India is a land of diversity and we need to live with that. We cannot force everyone to think alike and throw out people who differ. Dissent is not A call to violence.

    • You clearly didn’t read the article. He never said that everybody should think the same in an university. On the contrary.

      Mehta didn’t call for dissent, he called for working outside the law. We all know what that means

  18. Good that there are no comments on this article! Most probably because even the author is trying to decifer what he has said!

  19. This RSS author has amply demonstrated with this write up that right wingers have no brains and zero skills on how to build up an argument. The right wingers have also deployed street power to disrupt businesses – witness the various measures taken against cinema houses which exhibit films that powers that be don’t like – Mr Modi himself did not let Aamir Khan’s film be exhibited in Gujarat when he was CM. Various Senas have done that to many other films as well – even films made by Hindus. Pramod Mutalik is infamous for beating up boys and girls who frequent night clubs and restaurants – isn’t that damaging business? The Shiv Sena was always known for its street power in Mumbai – now when it is in opposition and does the same suddenly Fadnavis is asking questions! Mr Modi had no concern for small businesses when he suddenly announced demonetisation and carried it through even when he knew people were suffering.

    The right wing is as ruthless with power as the left wing – unless ordinary Indians realise this and stop providing super majority to them, this country is doomed. Only if we keep govts from being in full majority will we make them work for our welfare. Otherwise today it is PBM, tomorrow someone else who is inconvenient to the govt of the day.

    • This article shows that Nazism should be the avowed policy of the present Govt and the institutions of higher learning , financed and supported by private businesses ! Of course the Govt institutions have already been infiltrated by people of such thoughts , under the patronage of Modi Govt !

  20. glad some body wrote these views. iam eager to see what kind of diversity in faculty that Guha/Krea recruits? Till now most of them seem to be leftists.
    Also watch out that when( and only if ) Modi is about to exit. Mehta,Yadav and Guha WILL write that we have/had nothing against Modi . we were only trying to be good Opposition/critics. But in reality, they hate Modi. they also hate that Modi is supported by commoners. In other words , Modi is their INTIMATE ENEMY. they want ot be as popular as Modi but neither they have content or context to get that kind of popularity.

  21. All left liberals akas cummies are anti establishment, anti industrialists and only interested in redistributing available wealth without any wealth creation. They are instigators for mob violence. There will be constant ideological fight between these pseudo intellectuals and patriots

    • Left are parasites..living out of others blood while contributing precious little. Thay are curse to human civilisation

  22. Amazing logic! Sick piece of writing on do many levels! If this much deliberation of morality and private life has to go into a professor post, wonder why we have a Modi with his controversial background as PM! How can he criminalise triple talaq when he’s abandoned his own wife? When Ahmedabad university was forced by ABVP to retract visiting prof offer to Ram Guha in his specialization – Gandhian studies, wonder how it worked! On the protection / hafta issue that you thankfully brought up, we understand why Azim Premji, Shiv Nadar and many others go dutifully to RSS functions!

  23. This is absolute drivel. Deeply disturbed and disappointed that The Print has chosen to feature such blatant right wing propoganda on its pages.

    • RW also feels “Deeply disturbed and disappointed that The Print”, when we read YOYA articles or any one from your “biradri”

  24. To Mr. R. Jagannathan
    Sir , out of several counter views that come to mind on reading your article, I will mention just two. 1) The bill to expediate citizenship for persecuted minorities was reduced to NRC and an exaggerated bogey of illegal immigration and advertised as an instrument to lock up certain sections of people living in the country by our HM himself. Remember the “cronology” talk. Also the definition of persecuted minorities for the bill, now Act is so selective that it can hardly be called reasonable.
    Not discussing NRC and CAA . Just your view of what seems reasonable and not reasonable. 2) Saying intellectuals, specifically Left- Liberal not being decent human beings by pointing to their personal lives hardly seems fair. We know from history as well as in the present, plenty of right wingers with cruelty, psychopathy great enough to be remembered for centuries to come. To belittle intellect by pointing to the person’s personal life is a low blow indeed. Not expected from the likes of you. I am just a common person with no expertise whatsoever.

  25. shir Bhanu was an ardent supporter of Modi and rightward shift in political economic narrative. now he is being clubbed with the left liberals by the only one Jagannathan, the great thinker. ridiculous. this clubbing of everyone under the sun who differs with jagannathnan world view. all are left, communist, deshdrohi. what a fall Mr. Jagannathan. he is telling isntitutions, colleges and universities not to appoint those who are not medieval morons.

  26. It is refreshing to see that print is showing the guts to print the non leftist view. The writer hits the nail on the head. True liberalism in universities is to have faculty with differing thoughts and engaging in civil debates and not populated by egoistic, opinionated celebrities who only promote their thinking and kick anyone who disagree. This is what has happened with institutions like JNU.
    A truly refreshing and read worthy article

  27. Wow. What flawed logic. The exit Of PB Mehta was for one reason. That is the foundation of any discussion on this topic. Doesn’t matter what else Mehta said or did. The founders obviously capitulated either for political favour or something else. Now that is the subject of discussion. Jagannath creates a Strawmans argument here.

  28. This is as warped a logic as one can dream of..
    Courting left liberal facutly is a safe option ?????
    PB Mehta may be left liberal.. but he is liberal. He is a pure intellectual who reads politics and society from an objective intellectual lens…which is why he has the ability to say that UPA regime was a shadow of the idea of congress that set us free from British rule 75 years ago and also that RSS has nothing to with Hindu religion or Hindu faith. They are only hindu hegemonists. He spares no one and is not in the job of supporting or opposing ideologies.
    That’s what we want our young students to learn. Intellectual honesty and independence of thought.

  29. The ideas here do seem flawed as they suggest that a Ram Guha or Mehta, tend to operate with a ‘blinkered’ vision, promoting and confined to their own thought process and ideas.

    Is that true?.

    The diversity of ideas and views put forth by both authors only suggests that they remain catholic open and tolerant of diversity in thought, ideas and people.

    Is it possible that the institution expected otherwise of them? Discovering the need to conform to blinkered views and mindsets?

  30. i am extremly glad that i am reading a different view point on this matter – first time ever. thank you the print.

  31. Wow! Openly professing anti-intellectualism. But what else one can expect from the editor of a “diverse”, ” non-intellectual”, “news” outlet like Swarajya – Grapes are sour, what you can’t achieve, demonise that (intellectualism, erudition, rigour, scientific temperament in this case) . And a very explicit demonstration of the “hiring philosophy” of right-wing “intellectuals” (or do they prefer some other word instead of intellectuals?)

  32. Great article, very surprised, how Dalal and Leftist deal maker like Shekhar Guptha allowed this article in his print, very surprised, the Dalal must have some thing !!

  33. This article needed to be written. Mr Ranganthan has very correctly pointed out the adverse impact of these self perpetuating left liberal echochambers.West Bengal was reduced to an economic and cultural wasteland for three decades.We must when we debate ideas known that the Credo should be Against Absolutes

  34. Rightly said. Institutions should avoid people with their own distorted agenda- (either left or right).

  35. Maybe you should include the author’s association in the byline itself so that one can decide whether they want to waste 10 minutes of their busy lives indulging the unintelligent, painfully oblivious to irony and grasping-at-straws ramblings of conspiracy theorists or not.

  36. The out pourings of outrage and predictions of “end of the world” from the mutual admiration society members of the leftist, self-styled liberal, the erstwhile “wined and dined” mob at the resignation of PB Mehta from Ashoka University are not in any way surprising! If only any of them expressed even a fraction of this “outrage” at the massive corruption and betrayal of India and its citizens by the corrupt Congress and its crony regimes, they might carry an iota of credibility, but not otherwise. Pity, but that is life!

  37. Maybe you should include the author’s association in the byline itself so that one can decide whether they want to waste 10 minutes of their busy lives indulging in the idiotic ramblings of conspiracy theorists or not.

    • You are so biased that you do not want your prejudices to be challenged by different viewpoints?

  38. Similar was the problem with ex RBI Governor Rajan who liked his own voice and views instead of focusing on governance

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