More than 1,000 students of various undergrad courses at St Xavier's College were in for a rude shock on Tuesday when they received an email from the college principal criticizing the Gujarat model of the development, the ills of 'communal forces' and 'capitalism', albeit indirectly endorsing the Congress.
The 600-word message, headlined "In the background of elections – the development debate", which has also been put up on the college website, does not mention any political party or politician by name, but warns the students about the BJP and suggests that the Congress is better because of its "secular" and pluralistic approach.
Some professors and activists have described the message as "politically motivated", particularly since it was issued just two days before polling day in the city.
The message reads: "Gujarat may be doing well in the first sense…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… the state has a very high dropout rate in the last 10 years. Higher education has not been allowed to move forward… Gujarat has also been the worst performer in settling claims and distributing title deeds to tribal people and other forest dwellers. Till 2013, the state, with 15% tribal population, settled only 32 per cent of the claims, the lowest rate in the country."
The email also claimed that the Gujarat government didn't provide autonomy to St Xavier's College, Ahmedabad, for the last 10 years. "The college finally won a battle in the High Court to approach the UGC directly for this status," it stated.
A senior professor expressed surprise, saying that the college had not taken sides before. "The college has been close to Congress MP Milind Deora, who also gave Rs10 crore from his MPLAD fund for the college. But that doesn't mean that the principal should start singing the Congress' tune," he said.
Capt Denise Lobo, an activist, also criticized the statement. "Christian institutions have always remained apolitical since the time of Independence. An academic institution must stay away from politics. I'm surprised that Fr Frazer Mascarenhas (principal) has done this," said Lobo.
Asked what led him to issue the message, Fr Mascarenhas said that as head of the institution and a developmental anthropologist it was his duty to sensitize the first-time voters. "With this write-up, I am actually sensitizing the first-time voters so that they can use their franchise sensibly. The election commission has asked me to encourage the students to vote. Since I teach developmental anthropology, I analyzed various aspects of development and put it across so students can make an informed decision."