The department of Political Science at Ashoka University in Haryana’s Sonepat on Thursday said it will stop teaching unless the university reinstated Sabyasachi Das, who resigned as an assistant professor earlier this week.

This was the fifth department to make an announcement in Das’ support. On Wednesday, the departments of Economics, English and Creative Writing and Sociology and Anthropology issued similar statements.

Das resigned 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. Vice Chancellor Somak Raychaudhury said on Monday that the university had accepted Das’s resignation.

The department of Political Science in a statement on Thursday demanded that the university’s governing body should not play a role in evaluating faculty research through any committee or any other structure.

It was not clear what investigation was carried out by the governing body. Two persons familiar with the development, however, told Scroll that the governing body had set up a committee to “evaluate” Das’s paper. The committee asked Das to make changes to the paper, prompting him to resign from the university, they alleged.

The department of Political Science called for more transparency about the factors that led Das to resign and the hasty acceptance of his resignation. “By now, the pattern is all too familiar, especially for us as a department,” the letter stated.

In March 2021, political scientist and commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta had resigned from his post as a professor at the university. Mehta, a vocal critic of the Narendra Modi government, had said in his resignation letter that his association with Ashoka University may have been considered a political liability.

The department of Political Science said on Thursday that Das did not violate any accepted norms of academic practice. It said that the governing body at the university has “questioned the credibility of the peer review system and in effect has cast aspersions against scholars at Ashoka and elsewhere”.

The department demanded that the university should unconditionally offer Das his position back. “Like our colleagues, we too will be unable to carry forward our teaching obligations, in the spirit of critical inquiry and the fearless pursuit of truth that characterise our classrooms, unless these demands are met,” it said.

On Wednesday evening, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology had said that Das was subjected to “unusual and disturbing interference” in his academic work in the past few days.

“...We hope that the governing body will extend an unconditional apology to Professor Das and to the faculty,” the department said, according to The Indian Express. “In doing so, we expect them to reaffirm fidelity to the university’s policy on academic freedom and to the ideals on which Ashoka was founded.”

University abandoned its responsibility, say PhD students

A group of PhD students at the Ashoka University said the institute abandoned its responsibility to stand by Das, who faced personal attacks on social media.

“Recent developments around Prof Das’ paper and the subsequent response of the university indicate a clear submission to political pressure,” they said.

The students added: “As PhD students we are academics in training and these events have created a sense of gloom for many of us as we see the space for critical, discomforting and challenging ideas shrinking and dissenting voices being punished. Further, PhD students under the supervision of faculty members who are compelled to resign experience a significant disruption in their research work.”

The research paper

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 and 18 parliamentary seats due to this possible manipulation.