The recent controversy over the resignation of two distinguished professors of Ashoka University, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian, spotlights the limits to the autonomy of educational institutions even if these are privately funded and are legally independent of government control. Of course, no one has offered a shred of evidence that the two quit due to government pressure but given that Mehta was particularly trenchant in criticism of the government reaching such an inference was rather easy.
Promoters of Ashoka, one of the finest liberal arts universities in the country, are self-made professionals. Their kowtowing to the regime makes little sense. Mehta suggested that he got the feeling from the trustees that his continued association would harm the future expansion plan of the university. It seems the founders are keen on acquiring more land for starting new academic courses and did not want him on the rolls lest it hindered the expansion plan.
On its part, the ruling party needs to appreciate that it fritters away goodwill by seeming to be behind such illiberal conduct as causing two prominent academics to quit a prestigious university. In electoral terms the urban-centric middle class, which is most vocal in criticising alleged authoritarian actions, makes little difference, but the ruling party needlessly courts unpopularity by being seen to be intolerant of critics.