The Karnataka unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party submitted a petition to the Election Commission on Monday demanding that celebrated Kannada writer and Jnanapith award winner UR Ananthamurthy be sacked as chancellor of Central University in Gulbarga. They claim that he has violated the model code of conduct by launching a forum to campaign against Narendra Modi.

On April 3, Ananthamurthy, fellow Jnanapith winner Girish Karnad and other writers started an organisation called the Samakaleena Vichara Vedike to oppose Modi because they believe his rise is a “threat to Indian civilisation and its pluralist culture”.

In its petition to the EC, the BJP has contended that since Ananthamurthy draws a salary from the government, “he should not take political sides”. It says that Ananthamurthy is acting like a “Congress spokesperson” and has made statements that “defamed the party’s prime ministerial candidate”.

Ananthamurthy, however, failed to see the merit of the BJP argument. “I have always taken a strong political stand all through my career, even as a professor at government universities,” the writer told “In our history, writers and academics have always taken and expressed strong political opinion.”

Many writers contend that the BJP has used Anathamurthy’s chancellorship as an excuse to counter his anti-Modi campaign. They maintain that the BJP’s petition to the  EC is another reflection of the party’s intolerance of criticism.

“While they may disagree with what he says, a political party curbing the voice of academics is a serious issue and unacceptable,” said journalist DP Satish. “Especially when a personality like Modi is in question, there are bound to be strong points of view on either side of a discourse.”

Ananthamurthy has long been opposed to Modi. Though he has previously supported individual state BJP leaders, such as BS Yeddyurappa in 2007, he has been a consistent critic of Hindutva and other divisive  ideologies.

In September, soon after the BJP nominated Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, Ananthamurthy told journalists, “How can I live in a country where Modi is Prime Minister?” In an orchestrated reaction, several BJP workers sent him money orders and flight tickets asking him to leave the country. Following this, at a recent press conference in Delhi, the writer said his remarks that he would leave the country were an “emotional outburst” and that “he can live nowhere else but India”.

However, the reaction he received reflected “intolerance from Modi supporters "to any serious questions or opposition”, Ananthamurthy told He said that the very demand for a “strong country” by Modi supporters actually represents a desire for an “authoritarian ideology and leadership”, which the writer says reflects intolerance. He maintained that such a vision is not compatible with India’s inclusive fabric.

Amidst the noise, the battle between the BJP and a section of Karnataka’s intelligentsia has hit the streets of Bangalore. Writer Girish Karnad has been actively campaigning for the Congress’s Bangalore South candidate, Nandan Nilekani. Karnad, who has strong opinions against Modi, has been seen campaigning in several places along with Nilekani’s wife, Rohini.

For its part, the BJP is trying to downplay the controversy. S Prakash, the head of the BJP’s media cell in Karnataka, said that his party was more accommodating of dissenting views than the Congress. He said that the intellectuals were campaigning against the BJP because “they have a vested interest” in supporting the Congress government in the state. He added that the writers “are close to Nandan” and there haves no “ideological cause”.