Reading between the lines: The big fuss over letter by St Xavier’s principal to his students

St Xavier’s college, Mumbai’s principal Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas’s letter to the students who’ll be voting in the Lok Sabha Elections 2014 has stirred hornet’s nest. While the letter does not names any political party or any politician, it seems to support Congress agenda of socialist initiatives and slams BJP leader Narendra Modi‘s Gujarat model of development. People have been slamming Fr Fraser and St Xavier’s College as a whole as being a pro Congress institution.

But why a letter by a professor who is only asking his students to make informed decision is in center of controversy? What people don’t see is that many students of St Xavier’s or any other institution in Mumbai or anywhere else in India will be voting for the first time. What Fr. Mascarenhas really did is ask the students to think and vote instead of getting influenced by the hype created by political parties and Media. This again shows that political parties will use anything out of context for their goals and create controversy when there is none.

In fact what Fr Mascarenhas has done is something that should have been done by teachers and educational institution all over the country.All of us believe in bringing about Change in the country. How is that suppose to happen if you don’t chose your representative right. Are we supposed to just follow our parents, relatives and peers opinion when it comes to the topic of selecting our representative, our leaders. How can we bring about a change in the country if we don’t even know the basic facts and history of work of our so called “leaders”.

You cannot deny the fact that every media outlet, TV Ads, News, and even the Posters on the sides of the BEST buses are filled with the Slogans of “Abki baar Modi sarkaar”, People have now been long talking about how good the “Gujrat Model” is, and to be really true most of our youths blindly believe these claims. Fact is we are bombarded with messages from political parties and we do get influenced by 24×7 flow of such targeted ads. What is the harm if a Professor of Sociology has put forward a opinion and asked his students to choose well?

If people are asking Fr. Mascarenhas to step down as the principal of St Xavier’s college, then they are clearly out of their mind.

Here is the whole text that Fr. Mascarenhas sent to his students:

The approaching elections have brought an interesting discussion to the public forum on what constitutes human development and how it is to be achieved. The Gujarat model has been highlighted for our consideration. That is very apt because it puts in stark contrast two current views. Is the growth of big business, the making of huge profits, the achievement of high production – what we seek? Or is it the quality of life for the majority in terms of affordable basic goods and services and the freedom to take forward the cultural aspirations of our plural social groups that make up India?

Gujarat may be doing well in the first sense, although not as good as some other States in the country. But all the Human Development Index indicators and the cultural polarization of the population show that Gujarat has had a terrible experience in the last 10 years. Take the example of education: schools for the ordinary populace show abject neglect with a very high dropout rate in the last 10 years. Higher Education has not been allowed to move forward. To take just an example, St. Xavier’s College Ahmedabad, thrice NAAC accredited with an equivalent of the A grade, has not been able to gain permission from the Gujarat Government for Academic Autonomy, for the last 10 years and has finally won a battle in the High Court to approach the UGC directly for this status. Gujarat has also been the worst performer in settling claims and distributing title deeds to tribal people and other forest dwellers, as shown by the latest data put out by the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry. Till 2013, the State, with 15% tribal population, settled only 32 per cent of the claims, the lowest rate in the country.

As opposed to this, efforts like the Rojgar Yojana and the Food Security Act have been called “election sops”. However some of our best social scientists like Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have supported these as necessary in the emergency economic situation the country and the world is facing. The country is grateful that committed activists like Aruna Roy and Shailesh Gandhi have worked with the Government to initiate and sustain the Right to Information Act which makes accountability possible. Corruption still needs to be addressed effectively but since it is so prevalent at every level of society, it will take civil society long agonizing efforts to root it out.

A massive investment in health and education is sorely needed in our country of widening disparities and those who support big business and its unethical profits will never agree to such public expenditure for the masses. In fact, the worsening situation of environmental degradation and depletion, in the lunge for growth and profit, shows up the real intentions of the greedy. None can withstand this, as seen by the many clearances given in a week’s time after the recent change of guard at the Central Environment Ministry, which had earlier tried to hold the line under a different Minister.

So what lessons does a reflection on the approaching elections teach us? The prospect of an alliance of corporate capital and communal forces coming to power constitutes a real threat to the future of our secular democracy. Support for people who pledge to work to take Human Development Indicators higher and who commit themselves to a pluralistic culture in diverse India – this is the hope for the future. No magic wand or divine miracles will come to the aid of the Indian people. Their reasoned choice of individuals and political parties who promise to work for a real quality of life for all, will see India prosper or flounder on the precipice. Choose well!

Dr Frazer Mascarenhas S.J.

Principal.

  • Neel

    1. If anyone looks at this letter objectively, he or she will surely realize that the letter is quite clearly anti BJP. Even the uses of the phrases such as “alliance of corporate capital and communal forces” are ones which are typically used by Modi detractors. The ending phrase “Choose well” is quite against the run of the entire letter as it is clear which side Fr. Mascerenhas stands and how he wishes the readers to vote. His primary duty should have been to encourage his students to go out and vote, and not how to vote.
    2. There would be no issue if Fr. Mascerenhas had shared his opinion on his personal blog, Facebook account, Twitter account, or the like. The issue is that he has behaved unethically by sending this letter to his students using his college email ID as well as posted it on the college website i.e. effectively misusing the power which comes along with his post as the principal of an educational institute to communicate his political opinions.