In all the mud-slinging no one has stopped to ask the students what we make of this situation.



By Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala
Mumbai:A few days ago the Principal of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas wrote an email to all his students urging them to vote in the coming elections.

He highlighted areas, which he thought voters should keep in mind when casting their ballot, and advised to choose wisely and support “people who pledge to work to take Human Development Indicators higher and who commit themselves to a pluralistic culture in diverse India”.

His letter came under harsh criticism with the climax being a complaint filed against him by the BJP for allegedly violating the election code.

As a proud student of St. Xavier’s I am appalled at the way in which the sequence of events are playing out. In all the mud-slinging no one has stopped to ask the students what we make of this situation.

To start with, as a recipient of Fr. Frazer’s letter, I did not in any way feel compelled by him to vote for any particular party. His primary purpose struck me as being to remind his students to exercise their right to vote as dutiful citizens, especially since many of us would be first time voters. While he did give his own take on the political scene, he in no way voiced his direct support for any particular party.

He did criticize the Gujarat model of development as being a capitalistic one, but this is not something that has not already been said a thousand times. He spoke of secularism, something that is ensconced in our constitution. He emphasized human development as a key criterion by which a voter must decide. How then is his letter so unethical that it demands this much attention? What has he said that is so manipulative that the political parties are up in arms?

As a student all I see is a political party identifying itself with the tags of communal and crony capitalism, aggressively defending itself even though it was unnamed. It also made clear its stance that it would not tolerate the broadcasting of views dissenting from that of its own. While it criticizes the Principal for misusing his position as a figure of authority, it conveniently ignores the influence exerted in its favor, by the authoritative figure of a prominent yoga and spiritual guru whose number of followers far exceeds the 3000 odd students of the college, or a famed singer whose number of fans runs into the many hundred thousands.

But most importantly what all the parties and talking heads have failed to take into consideration is the fierce independence and free thinking that St. Xavier’s fosters amongst its students. Few students, if any, would blindly follow instructions without attempting to understand and decipher for themselves the pros and cons of any particular decision. A decision as big as which party to vote for, would hardly then be decided on a Principal’s letter, one that has been aired long after people’s minds have already been made up. One that serves no other purpose than as a reminder to vote.

Personally I have seen the college come alive with debates and expressions of all kinds for months before the elections got underway. The campus has been hot with passion as one view clashes with another, neither likely to give way without a fight. Which is why I find it humorous that the parties believe the students and leaders of the future are so fickle minded that they would be swayed by a few mild words.

But lastly I wish to understand how any person or party can be upset by even direct criticism when the job itself requires that they be put under the harshest scrutiny, especially since they intend to rule the country.

That being said, I believe political parties have succeeded yet again in drawing attention to something that would have unmistakably slipped away unnoticed. And as a student of Xavier’s, I’m glad they did!

Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala is a student of St. Xavier’s college in Mumbai.


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