Should CPM alone take blame for making vice chancellors mere puppets of rulers

Satheesan, Bindu
Opposition leader VD Satheesan, Higher education minister R Bindu. Photo: Manorama

The Opposition UDF on Wednesday listed a series of appointments under the LDF tenure where merit was dismissively shooed away like it was a stray to accommodate people close to the ruling party.

Higher education minister R Bindu did not bother to respond to any of these but listed equally outrageous appointments made under the UDF. No names were taken by both sides.

Moral of the story: Nepotism is not the monopoly of any particular party.

The illegal appointments in various higher education institutions in Kerala caused a tumult in the Assembly after Congress MLA Roji M John sought leave for an adjournment motion on the issue. Evidently, Roji wanted to speak about the first rank granted to Priya Varghese in the associate professor selection in the Malayalam Department of Kannur University. Priya Varghese is the wife of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's private secretary, K K Ragesh.

Higher education minister R Bindu made a terse statement right at the start. "The rank list was drawn up in strict adherence to the UGC Regulations."

Roji M John
Roji M John/Facebook

Roji said it was not. He said that the candidate not only had the least research score but also did not have the sufficient experience to be shortlisted. He said that as per the UGC Regulations, the time taken to acquire an MPhil or PhD degree could not be considered as teaching experience for direct recruitment. Only those candidates who work for their MPhil or PhD degrees while working part time could consider this period as experience while applying for the post. If these regulations were followed, Roji said the candidate should have been disqualified.

He then said that the instance of nepotism in the associate professor appointment was not the exception but the norm. He said many woefully under-qualified candidates were given lucrative teaching posts merely because of their close connection to the CPM.

Roji said one of them had plagiarised his doctoral thesis, and had admitted to this also. Yet this candidate who had confessed to data theft was given the post ignoring more equipped candidates.

Then he said an SFI leader who had failed in the sixth semester was granted grace marks for a Malayalam skit he had not been part of. Roji said even candidates who had failed in the BA Exam was given admission to the MA course.

Opposition Leader V D Satheesan said that the government was bending rules and regulations to stuff higher education bodies with loyalists. "Hundreds of applicants with brilliant research and academic record are becoming increasingly disillusioned. This is causing serious unrest among the educated youth in Kerala," Satheesan said.

He alleged that the CPM was using universities as party offices. When Satheesan said that the government had shrunk vice chancellors into mere puppets, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan intervened. He said all VCs appointed by the LDF government had the most exemplary credentials.

To this Satheesan said: "We have not questioned their qualifications. What we are saying is that selection committees headed by VCs were being rigged to recruit party favourites ignoring merit."

Higher education minister R Bindu

Minister Bindu said these allegations were just motivated charges made to malign the exemplary image of the government. She said the UDF had appointed as vice chancellor even a person with only basic education. Later, Muslim League leader P K Kunhalikutty said this was untrue.

Bindu also said these charges were born out of "third-rate jealousy". Opposition Leader V D Satheesan, when his turn came, asked why would anyone feel "even the thirtieth-rated jealousy" for a higher education sector that was sinking new depths of inefficiency.

He said students in Kerala were migrating outside the state for higher studies in overwhelming numbers. Satheesan said that in the Mahatma Gandhi University, the number of students enrolling for higher education yearly had fallen from nearly 1.5 lakh to just about 20,000. "Many of our students are not even going to known or reputed institutions outside. They feel that even an unknown college outside Kerala is better than the colleges we have here," Satheesan said.

The minister also insinuated that the ongoing appointment controversy was part of an "attempt to sneak Sangh Parivar agenda into universities in Kerala using Constitutional posts". She was clearly referring to Governor Arif Muhammad Khan and his diatribes against the Kannur VC. She then told the Opposition benches: "If you are genuinely against Hindutva interests, please withdraw from playing along with them."

This elicited a strong reaction from the Opposition Leader. "If you are so concerned about the Hindutva agenda just look how the Kannur VC revised the syllabus of the MA Governance and Politics," Satheesan said. Four books by Hindutva stalwarts like V D Savarkar, M S Golwalkar and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya were made part of the syllabus. "The charge against the Modi government is also similar, that they are trying sneak in Hindutva ideology through universities," Satheesan said.

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