Narendra Modi

Dear Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz,

As students, staff, researchers and alumnae of the University of Cambridge, we are concerned to learn from a report in the Hindustan Times that you may have extended an invitation on our behalf to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address Regents House here on his visit to the UK in November 2015 (1).

While we are cognisant that the university has in the past invited political figures to address its most important academic body, in this particular instance there are several grave and present concerns that we feel impelled to advise you of. We note that Mr Modi’s visit to London will be protested by several groups campaigning for human rights and justice in India, areas in which Mr Modi’s record is still under a cloud. These have to do not just with persistent questions regarding the dreadful massacres in Gujarat in 2002 where over 800 Muslims and 200 Hindus died on his watch and with the proven complicity of members of his cabinet, but ongoing and grave violations of human rights under his Prime Ministership. Currently, Mr Modi is more notable for his silences and evasions on the violations and violence– frequently undertaken by supporters of his Hindu nationalist government– than for taking steps to prevent their recurrence. In recent days, these have included the beating to death of a Muslim man by a Hindu mob for allegedly eating beef (2).

While these events should concern all right-thinking people, our specific concern about this invitation from one of the world’s top universities stems from Prime Minister Modi’s government’s ongoing attacks on academic freedom and freedom of expression in India (3).

During his tenure, there have been several cases of international researchers being denied entry to (4) and being abruptly deported from the country (5). The government has also been, in an unprecedented manner, interfering with the functioning of Nalanda University, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (6), Indian Institutes of Technology (7) and Indian Institutes of Management (8). Nobel-Laureate Professor Amartya Sen, one of our most distinguished alumni and former Master of Trinity College, has been vocal about the current government’s attempts to infiltrate and control independent academic bodies.
His own position was made untenable by governmental interference and he was forced to resign his position as Vice-Chancellor of Nalanda University (9). Further, there have been several recent appointments of those sympathetic to the right wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to academic positions at the Film and Television Institute of India (10) and the Indian Council for Historical Research (11), in both cases with little or poor qualifications for the post. Given the serious implications for academic freedom and integrity, these appointments have generated massive protests in India.
A prominent writer and an outspoken critic of Mr Modi’s regime, Dr MM Kulbargi, a former Vice-Chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi was recently murdered in cold-blood (12). Another noted dissident, the journalist Prabir Purkayastha has observed that today, under Mr Modi’s leadership of the country ‘Indian citizens are attacked for what they believe, think or say, even what they eat’ (13). We are impelled to ask therefore why the University of Cambridge affords to Mr Modi the very freedom of expression and academic freedom that, despite constitutional guarantees, are being steadily eroded in India.

Given that your invitation comes at a time when several prominent Indian writers and intellectuals are returning their state honours (14) in protest against the ongoing assault on civil liberties and academic freedom under Mr Modi’s government (15), we believe that Mr Modi’s presence at our institution will bring the university into serious disrepute. We respectfully urge you, therefore, to uphold our university’s reputation for maintaining the highest standards of academic freedom and prevent further damage and likely embarrassment by rescinding any invitation that might have been made.

Yours sincerely,
Faculty, Students and Alumni of Cambridge