Students and teachers at Manipur University have alleged that a fire that broke out in the campus late on Saturday was intended to derail their protests against the vice chancellor, The Indian Express reported on Monday.

Vice Chancellor Adya Prasad Pandey has been facing demands to resign for over a month due to allegations ranging from incompetence to misuse of university funds. He has repeatedly denied the allegations and refused to step down. In protest, the students’ union has locked down all departments and buildings.

On Saturday night, fire tenders quickly doused the fire that broke out at the office of the assistant director of sports. Several documents were lost in the blaze. The cause of the fire is not yet known but fire officials have ruled out a short circuit, the Imphal Free Press reported.

“We firmly believe that the office attached to the indoor university was set on fire deliberately to derail the legitimate and democratic agitation taken up by the students and teachers of the varsity,” said M Dayaman, president of Manipur University Students’ Union.

The teachers’ association, staff association and the students’ union held a joint emergency meeting on Sunday morning. Members claimed to have found empty petrol bottles near the campus stadium and alleged unauthorised visitors had stayed in the varsity guest house.

Condemning the incident, Manipur University Teachers’ Association spokesperson Debananda Ningthoujam said the protests were not only for teachers and students but also for the state’s future. “The time of negotiation is gone and the only solution will be removing the vice-chancellor, Adya Prasad Pandey,” he added.

All deans and heads of departments resign

Meanwhile, all the deans and 28 heads of departments at the university have resigned, The Indian Express reported.

“There are several irregularities in administrative and financial matters,” Professor NN Singh, who resigned as the head of the physics department, told the newspaper. “Within a few days, if the Centre fails to take a decision, there will be a huge uproar in the university, and the gathering will see participation of thousands of students from all the affiliated colleges.”

Pandey reiterated his innocence and alleged that the protestors have “pressured” the deans and department heads to step down. In a statement on Sunday, he asked students and staff to abide by the code of conduct and refrain from unlawful acts. He said he was in constant touch with Chief Minister N Biren Singh and Governor Najma Heptulla and was attempting to resolve the crisis.

Allegations and the protest

The students’ protest began on May 30. Since then, several teachers, deans and political parties such as the Manipur units of the Congress and Trinamool Congress have joined the agitation. The protests have paralysed the university, with agitators locking down the administrative block. The semester examinations have been postponed indefinitely.

The protestors claim that Panday is incompetent and conducts several “non-academic activities” from his office. He has also not been able to fill key positions, they allege.

Pandey, who was appointed in October 2016, goes on leave for long periods of time without mentioning his date of return, and an “extraordinary” amount of money is used for these trips, the Imphal Free Press quoted protestors as saying. Some protestors have also accused the vice chancellor of attempting to “saffronise the university” by promoting groups that have connections with right-wing organisations.