President and HRD ministry at loggerheads again: JNU VC appointment is the latest source of dispute

It seems there is a divide between President Pranab Mukherjee and Union Human Resources Minister Smriti Irani. The two have differed over appointments at three Central universities — the latest being over Jawaharlal Nehru University, according to The Indian Express.

There were four finalists for the position of JNU's vice-chancellor and Irani made it clear that she prefers VS Chauhan, a scientist, but the president chose M Jagadesh Kumar from IIT-Delhi instead, reported The Indian Express. The two universities over which the two leaders previously butted heads are Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad and Visva Bharati University in West Bengal.

President and HRD ministry at loggerheads again: JNU VC appointment is the latest source of dispute

Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani. PTI

This is not the first time that appointment of college heads by Irani’s HRD ministry has been mired in controversy. There was speculation in September 2015, that the HRD ministry had spoken to Subramanian Swamy about taking over the JNU vice-chancellor position. Swamy even tweeted about it, saying he has preconditions that needed to be met before the ministry could make an offer.

In January 2015, Zafar Sareshwala was appointed the chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University. Sareshwala, who owns a Ahmedabad-based business identified as Parsoli Corp and is said to be an expert in Islamic finance, beat others shortlisted by the university’s executive council. Allegations of favouritism were made as he was one of the most prominent faces of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaign team in the run up to the 2014 General Election, and frequently appeared on news channel debates to defend government policy.

However, as Mohammad Sajjad, a historian at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) told Firstpost , “Without going into the merits of this argument, I must say there is a section which feels that Zafar Sareshwala may do something good for the university and the community. And if not Sareshwala, then who? There is a total vacuum.”

In April 2015, IIT-Kanpur professor Dheeraj Sanghi called into question the HRD ministry’s selection process for the directors of IIT-Bhubaneswar, IIT-Patna and IIT-Ropar, Telegraph India reported. The ministry had earlier claimed that they had interviewed 36 candidates for the three posts in six hours on a Sunday, which, according to Sanghi, meant each candidate was interviewed for 10 minutes. He alleged to Telegraph India that the only way a selection panel could make a decision in 10 minutes was if they already knew the candidate previously, which meant that other candidates didn’t have much of a chance to prove their competency.

Irani admitted that she has been accused of saffronising education institutions but she dismissed the charge in June 2015 saying, "I never ask students about their religion as we do not discriminate against the rights of a student to education on the basis of caste or religion."

To buttress the point that discrimination on religious lines was not being conducted, Irani referred to the appointment of the vice-chancellor of the Central University of Gujarat, Syed Bari.

She also asserted at an education conclave in July 2015 that she is actually in the process of depoliticising her ministry's functioning. Her goal was to serve in the best interests of the students, India Today quoted her as saying.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Jan 29, 2016 14:29:09 IST

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