St Xavier’s College principal Father Frazer Mascarenhas has raised a political storm on the campus, with several students reporting receiving an email in which he has blasted Narendra Modi’s Gujarat model and urged them to vote for parties that stand for ‘inclusive development’.
Mascarenhas’s note, which doesn’t name any individual or a political party, has also been uploaded on the college website, even as several students criticised the principal on social networking sites, saying the email “smacked of bias” and was “politically motivated”.
Mascarenhas’s note to his students comes two days before the voting in the city, and is loaded with “insinuations” about Modi and the BJP, the students said. The note said: “The approaching elections have brought an interesting discussion on what constitutes human development and how it is to be achieved. The Gujarat model has been highlighted for our consideration. That is very apt because it puts in stark contrast two current views. Is the growth of big business, the making of huge profits, the achievement of high production what we seek? Or, is it the quality of life for the majority in terms of affordable basic goods and services and the freedom to take forward the cultural aspirations of our plural social groups that make up India?”
Mascarenhas also claimed in the note that Gujarat “wasn’t doing well on human development indicators”. “All human development index indicators and the cultural polarisation of the population show that Gujarat has had a terrible experience in the last 10 years. Take the example of education: schools for the ordinary populace show abject neglect with a very high dropout rate in the last 10 years,” the note said.
The email also highlighted the ‘plight of tribals’ in Gujarat, saying: “Gujarat has also been the worst performer in settling claims and distributing title deeds to tribals and other forest dwellers, as shown by the latest data put out by the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry. Till 2013, the state, with 15 per cent tribal population, settled only 32 per cent of the claims, the lowest rate in the country,” Mascarenhas’s note said.
The email praised several initiatives of the Manmohan Singh government, saying: “Efforts such as the Rojgar Yojana and the Food Security Act have been called ‘election sops’. However, some of our best social scientists, such as Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze, have supported these schemes as necessary.”
While the Xavierites said Mascarenhas would have been better off urging students to merely vote and not tell them for whom, the principal told Mumbai Mirror that he wasn’t favouring any party.
“All I wanted to convey to students, many of whom are first-time voters, was to vote and make an informed choice. The Election Commission has been proactive in urging people to vote and our college had also staged a campaign to get people registered for voting,” Mascharenas, who teaches development anthropology at the college, said.
He pointed to a paragraph in his email, saying it was a criticism of the present government for failing to address environmental degradation. “The worsening situation of environmental degradation and depletion, in the lunge for growth and profit, shows up the real intentions of the greedy. None can withstand this, as seen by the many clearances given in a week’s time after the recent change of guard at the central environment ministry, which had earlier tried to hold the line under a different minister,” the email said.
Xavierites, however, were far from convinced. Several were, in fact, angry that their principal was trying to ‘colour their opinion’. One such student posted on Facebook: “”Did Fr Frazer just sent the entire college a politically-coloured email, showing unnamed but direct and clear disapproval of a particular party? Election fever is definitely on.”
Another student posted, “I wish he had concentrated more on the go-out-and-vote bit. Even if you’re going to biased, which he clearly is, you can’t send a mail to all your students, thereby colouring their opinions as well. Instead, as an educator, shouldn’t he be encouraging us to form our own viewpoints and make our own choices?”
Mascarenhas, however, insisted he had been misunderstood. “I have laid out certain criteria such as human development indicators, corruption, inclusive development and the environment for students to think about and make a choice. As an educational administrator, I only urge students to vote and make an informed choice,” he said.
The email, however, talked about the dangers of “communal forces” coming to power and allying with “corporate capital”. “The prospect of an alliance of corporate capital and communal forces coming to power constitutes a real threat to the future of our secular democracy,” the note said.
The BJP wasted little time in blasting the principal’s actions, with the party’s city president Ashish Shelar calling it a violation of the election code of conduct. “The principal has no clue about the issues he has raised on the Gujarat model. Such highly educa
ted person should have discussed the debated the points before arriving at conclusions,” Shelar said.
– mumbai mirror