Conflict in Campus

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by Tasavur Mushtaq

The university of Kashmir, the highest seat of learning, is the abode of thousands of knowledge seekers. Since its inception, albeit as Jammu and Kashmir University, it has been generating hope in the hopeless situation, especially for the youth who can ill-afford admissions outside Kashmir. Holding hands and managing minds, it helps in building a social set up for ages to come.

photograph of University of Jammu and Kashmir convocation on September 24, 1949. The rare photograph shows the arrival of Pandit Nehru, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad and the VC of the University Justice Masood Hussain

In civilized societies, universities are little universes of knowledge. Right now, this institution in Kashmir is grappling with the issues linked to its leadership, the position of Vice Chancellor.

The incumbent VC has come to the office through a proper process and has been pretty non-controversial. The developments that took place in last few months have created a situation that led to the intervention of the High Court installing the process of appointment of a new VC till November 20, the next date of hearing?

The petitioner in the court is none other than incumbent VC, Prof (Dr) Khurshid Iqbal Andrabi. His plea is that he is entitled to continue for two more years. He has reason to say so.

On October 17, 2014, Prof Andrabi was appointed as VC for a three-year term. By virtue of that order, his term expired on October 17, 2017. But few months after cobbling a coalition, BJPDP government in 2015 brought amendments in the Jammu and Kashmir Universities Act, 1969 in the legislative assembly wherein the sub-section (5) of section (12) of the Act, the words “three years” shall be substituted by the words “five years”.

The government had its own reason which they justified in the “Statement of Objects and Reasons’ by saying “it is difficult or rather improbable to make an impact, administratively or academically, in this (three year) short period. A five-year-term will definitely help VC to fully experiment with the ideas they conceive and fine-tune them. It is therefore imperative to increase the tenure of the VC for state Universities from three years to five years.”

The law governing the conduct and functioning of the highest seat of learning was amended. The gazette notification was issued in the same year after concurrence from the governor, Chancellor of the universities operating in J&K, (read the governor).

But on September 8, 2017, the Chancellor directed constitution of a search committee for appointment of the new VC, for the University of Kashmir. However, the petitioner pleads that without appreciating the legal position, the concerned authorities have constituted a search committee to get his replacement.

There is a tiff on. Managing the affairs of the university on the directions of High Court may be a win for an individual but not an institution.

The sources in the varsity told Kashmir Life that “Chancellor is not happy with Prof Andrabi, with no apparent fault of the latter.”

Prof Andrabi belongs to a different class of academics. He is not protocol conscious but is keen to work. A casual man with flowing salt-pepper beard, Andrabi comes from research background with many years of stay in USA. Doing away with his security, not living in official accommodation, and a regular visitor to his laboratory in biotechnology department, his colleagues say his “style of functioning” may have had an impact on termination of his tenure.

Governor N N Vohra, sources say, had few issues with the VC. Many allege, he was accused of giving liberty to the spread of “radicalism” in the campus. Last time when Vohra visited the campus, there were protests and, many think, he is being taken to task for that.

The “fight” may be personal or professional, but the university is at stake. Working under the directions of judiciary may not benefit academics.

File photo

The argument that Act was amended after the appointment of Prof Andrabi falls flat, as legal experts suggest that “all the laws are retrospective in character and an amendment made in an Act—except for a penal law (criminal law)—is retrospective in nature.”

Justice (retired) Hasnain Masoodi (retd) was recently quoted saying that “the benefits under the amended law will be automatically applicable to the incumbent (VCs) even if he/she was appointed before the amendments were made.”

“If today government decides that retirement age is enhanced from 60 to 62, does that mean employees who were employed yesterday won’t get benefit,” quipped one teacher, apparently in support of Andrabi.

The “surprising silence” of the government makes the story all the more enigmatic. Does the government intend to intervene between the head of the state and the head of the University and get the judiciary out of the mess? If there are grave concerns in hand, the government can and should come out and take the people on board. After all, democracy is not all about elections. The real democracy is in follow up.

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