Ashoka University has been criticised for a statement on Tuesday dissociating itself from a faculty member’s research paper, which claimed electoral manipulation in favour of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The research paper titled “Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy” by Sabyasachi Das, assistant professor of economics at Ashoka University, was published on July 25 on the Social Science Research Network. Das argued that the BJP won a disproportionate share of closely contested parliamentary seats in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, especially in states where it was the ruling party at the time.

Das claimed that this alleged electoral manipulation by the BJP also appeared to have taken the form of targeted electoral discrimination against Muslims, “partly facilitated by weak monitoring by election observers”.

However, he argued that his research was “not proofs of fraud” and does not “suggest that manipulation was widespread”.

“This paper contributes to the discussion by documenting irregular patterns in 2019 general election in India and identifying whether they are due to electoral manipulation or precise control, i.e., incumbent party’s ability to precisely predict and affect win margins through campaigning,” Das wrote. “I compile several new datasets and present evidence that is consistent with electoral manipulation in closely contested constituencies and is less supportive of the precise control hypothesis.”

The paper was widely discussed, especially on social media. Several people, including Opposition leader Shashi Tharoor, cited the findings to raise concerns about the state of Indian democracy.

However, Das’ research was sharply criticised by some people who generally lean towards the BJP. They alleged that he was discrediting India’s democratic and electoral processes.

On Tuesday, Ashoka University – where Das teaches economics – issued a statement dissociating itself from his research. “Ashoka University is dismayed by the speculation and debate around a recent paper by one of its faculty members (Sabyasachi Das, Assistant Professor of Economics) and the university’s position on its contents,” said the Haryana-based private institution.

It added: “The University encourages its 160-plus faculty to carry out research, but does not direct or approve specific research projects by individual faculty members...Social media activity or public activism by Ashoka faculty, students or staff in their individual capacity does not reflect the stand of the University.”

Dismay at response

The university’s statement was in turn criticised by academics and prominent personalities. Many lambasted the university for failing to stand by a faculty member and bowing to pressure.

Joyojeet Pal, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, said in a tweet that faculty around the world should look at Ashoka University for “how weak institutions throw junior faculty under the bus”.

“Not only is [Sabyasachi Das’s] work empirically solid, it is supported by the work in several other fields, including ours,” Pal said.

Narayani Basu, a historian and foreign policy analyst, concurred. “Debate is the actual purpose of academia & if that’s what a....*checks notes* .... “liberal arts” university is dismayed by, it speaks volumes about its lack of spine & integrity,” Basu wrote in a tweet. “Throwing your own under the bus is cowardice.”

Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, a professor of economics at Yale University, said that “the goons have already gotten to Dr Das’ employer”.

“This statement strongly suggests that they don’t have the confidence to support their faculty member and will yield to BJP pressure,” Mobarak wrote on Twitter. “This is a very different India.”

Suhas Palshikar, a political scientist who taught political science at the Savitribai Phule Pune University, said that academic freedom has “met with its end finally among the country’s institutions” when a “prestigious private university goes out of its way to tweet to dissociate itself” from an ongoing research.

“With undeclared restrictions on research and field work by scholars based outside of India and squeezing of autonomy of researchers within the country, we are managing to scuttle the core ability of social science research to examine, critique and search for alternatives,” Palshikar wrote on Twitter. Wednesday.

Palshikar added, “[Restrictions on research] will enhance the project of creating ignorant and obedient citizens and servile and ideologically committed administrators.”

Anant Sudarshan is faculty at University of Warwick’s economics department

Nandini Sundar, professor of sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, concurred. “Excellence in research and teaching can only flourish if there is academic freedom and universities don’t bend over backwards to disassociate themselves from research that is inconvenient to ruling regimes.”

Bruno Maçães, an author and Portugal’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, wrote that Ashoka University seemed to be “running scared”. “Faculty publish papers, that’s what they do,” Maçães wrote on Twitter.

Despite the university’s statement, some at the institution such as Gilles Verniers, director of Ashoka University’s Trivedi Centre for Political Data, expressed support for the faculty member. “I condemn the vicious attacks against [Das], a colleague of rare courage and integrity,” Verniers tweeted on Wednesday. “If we don’t leave room for research that is inconvenient, we shut the door to the possibility of fixing our problems.”

Srinivas Kodali is a cyber security researcher

Meanwhile, others criticised the university response because they argued that it did not go far enough. “It is fine to differ with the BJP on matters of policy but this is taking it too far…how can someone in the name of half-baked research discredit India’s vibrant poll process?” BJP Member of Parliament Nishikant Dubey asked in a tweet. “How can any university allow it? Answers needed - this is not good enough a response.”

Added Parvesh Sahib Singh, another BJP Member of Parliament, in a tweet: “This statement is as bad as the paper, if not worse. The moot point is – the author is suggesting our election process is flawed - and he is saying it without any basis. We need to keep discussing this how anti-India elements are discrediting our democratic framework.”