An assistant professor at Ashoka University in Haryana’s Sonepat resigned from his post weeks after he published a research paper exploring the possibility of electoral manipulation in favour of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, The Hindu reported on Tuesday.

The university has accepted Das’ resignation, its Vice Chancellor Somak Raychaudhury said. He added that Das’ research was perceived by many as reflecting the views of the university.

“At Ashoka University, members of the faculty have the freedom to teach and carry out research in the areas they choose,” Raychaudhury said. “The university affords its faculty and students the most enabling environment for academic freedom at an institution of higher education.”

The vice chancellor said that Ashoka University does not direct or moderate research carried out by faculty or students. “This academic freedom also applied to Mr Das,” he said.

In the research paper titled “Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy”, 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. The research was published on the Social Science Research Network on July 25.

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 stated that his research was “not proofs of fraud” and does not “suggest that manipulation was widespread”. Das also estimated that the BJP may have gained between 9 to 18 parliamentary seats due to this possible manipulation.

On August 1, Ashoka University, however, said that the research paper had not completed a critical review process and had not been published in an academic journal. “Social media activity or public activism by Ashoka faculty, students or staff in their individual capacity does not reflect the stand of the university,” it added.

After news of Das’ resignation broke out, several academicians and activists criticised the university for not supporting the assistant professor.

Psephologist and political activist Yogendra Yadav said in a sarcastic vein: “An advertisement for academic freedom in India, on the eve of Independence Day!”

Economist Jayati Ghosh said she was shocked at the lack of solidarity from senior faculty members at the university.

However, Ashwini Deshpande, the head of the university’s economics department, responded: “Amazing how people are making assumptions about our ‘lack of solidarity’ without knowing anything about what we have been up to the last 15 days. If issuing statements alone could solve crises, we would be in a different world.”

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