Belgian political scientist Gilles Verniers was “forced to leave” the Trivedi Centre for Political Data at Ashoka University, The Wire reported on Tuesday, citing the centre’s scientific board.
Ashoka University, however, claimed that Verniers’ departure was because of his failure of not meeting the stringent criteria regarding the continuation of service, reported PTI.
Verniers was the founder and co-director of the Trivedi Centre for Political Data. He is known for important, data-informed analysis of state and national polls that his team at the centre has regularly put out after every election for nearly a decade now. His analysis of all the elections has been published in Scroll.
At Ashoka University, Verniers was an assistant professor of Political Science. He is currently a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. He is also a Karl Loewenstein visiting fellow as well as a visiting assistant professor of Political Science at the Amherst College.
The scientific board of the Trivedi Centre for Political Data in an open letter announced that it was dissolving itself because the Ashoka University, “in breach of academic norms”, did not inform or consult the members regarding “substantial changes” about how the centre would be run.
The scientific board, which includes political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, former Election Commissioner SY Quraishi and senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Milan Vaishnav, said it is “surprised and disappointed” by Ashoka University’s decisions.
“The TCPD’s vibrant and important agenda, under the leadership of founding director professor Gilles Verniers, is what attracted each of us to serve on its scientific board, and contribute to its intellectual mission,” the statement said.
The databases of the centre are frequently used by scholars and journalists, the board pointed out, adding that they have a substantial impact on the research and coverage of elections in India.
The board said that the influence of the databases is not limited to just data and research projects.
“It has also played an important role for students from Ashoka and beyond,” it added. “In seven years, TCPD researchers have mentored 125 interns, mostly from Ashoka. Its summer program has trained large numbers of students and data journalists. Eight of its collaborators, all Ashoka graduates, have been admitted to prestigious PhD programs.”
The board asserted that in the seven years since the centre was established, it is no exaggeration to say that it has had “a transformative impact on the field of Indian electoral politics”.
“We commit to supporting Gilles Verniers’ and his partners’ efforts to maintain the future and the integrity of the data and of the work associated with it,” the statement said.
On its part, Ashoka University said that faculty who do not qualify for tenure leave the institution within three semesters, according to PTI.
“Professor Verniers has not been teaching at Ashoka for the last one year, and has now chosen to leave the university,” it said in a statement. “The university appreciates Prof Verniers’ many contributions as a teacher and towards building a strong reference source of political data for researchers and students.”
The university also said some of its centres and offices are planned to be integrated with its newly established Centre for Data Sciences and Analytics, reported PTI. “The Trivedi Centre for Political Data is among them, and TCPD’s proposed integration with the new centre has been communicated to the TCPD scientific board recently,” it added.
The latest crisis in Ashoka University comes after an assistant professor of economics resigned in August, 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 university had distanced itself from the Sabyasachi Das’ research. There are also allegations that rather than wait for a peer review process to examine the paper, the university set up a committee to “evaluate” Das’ research and asked him to make changes. He quit soon after.