Students stand solidly behind beleaguered Xavier's principal
Two students from St Xavier’s College and the director of a management college stand solidly behind Dr Fr Frazer Mascarenhas for writing a mail to his students (read the letter here) that has been panned by the Bharatiya Janata Party as an attempt to influence young voters.
Fr Mascarenhas was trying, these three believe, to inform his students rather than influencing them to vote for or against a particular party.
Rasika Menon (name changed because the person wanted to remain anonymous), who has recently completed her BSc from St Xavier’s College Mumbai, wondered aloud as to why should anybody raise an uproar about the timing of the mail Fr Mascarenhas wrote to his students. She avers that it was done in a transparent manner and was not a secret conspiracy against any particular individual or party.
“Any other time would be just random. It would make no sense if he were to write this letter four years before the election,” she argues in favour of her college principal and the timing of the letter that has created a furore among the office bearers of Mumbai BJP.
“The timing is very relevant and above suspicion,” Menon says.
Leena Mathias (name changed because the person wanted to remain anonymous), a second year student from St Xavier’s, asserted that the students have already made up their mind to who to vote for before they read this mail. Having said that she added that not even her parents could influence her to vote for anybody against her choice.
“We have so many WhatsApp groups but nobody is discussing Fr Mascarenhas's mail and getting influenced by it. We have our own independent thinking. Even my parents cannot influence me who to vote for.”
The Maharashtra unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party has filed a complaint with the EC alleging that Fr Mascarenhas has violated the model code of conduct which has been in force and will remain so till the last phase of elections on May 12. The BJP alleged that Fr Mascarenhas’s mail was a blatant attempt to influence his students to vote against their party.
However Rasika, a science graduate now, counters the arguments of Fr Mascarenhas’s critics by saying “nowhere in the mail (is he) asking the students to vote or not to vote for a certain person or party. It is just a piece of information.”
Interestingly, Fr Mascarenhas told Rediff.com that his mail was an attempt to create awareness among his students as to the situation as it stands in Gujarat. “I have not mentioned any party. In fact, I have criticised all the parties,” Fr Mascarenhas said.
“He has never said or influenced students to vote for the Congress. He just arms us with information without being subjective. He never takes a stand or influence his views on anyone,” says Leena.
Rasika, on the other hand, says “the BJP should stop accusing Fr Mascarenhas for his audacious attempt to connect with the students and offer them an independent platform to create their individual opinions.”
Professor Kalim Khan, director at the Rizvi Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai, while saying that he would not have written such an email to his students defends Fr Mascarenhas for his attempt to create awareness among his pupils.
“Perhaps the gentleman was attempting to be informative; the attempt was to tell them to please go and vote; the attempt was to tell them that you should not be carried away by advertising campaigns but check out the facts on the ground before voting for anybody,” Prof Khan adds.
Rasika observes that this is not a mail that Fr Mascarenhas has written out of the blue. In fact, this has been an ongoing dialogue with the students she says. “We get such emails from him throughout the year. Being election time, this mail is being hyped about,” she says. “The platform helps students to form an informed opinion.”
Leena, who has not seen the mail but has read about its content on the college’s website, praises her principal for being very transparent about his interactions with his students.
“For the time being if we keep the content of the letter aside I think very few principals in this country have the audacity to examine their ideas on social and economic development and give students a platform where they can form their own opinions. I don't think a lot of principals actually do so,” she says.
However, Prof Khan adds a note of caution: “Honestly speaking, as an academician, as the head of an institute perhaps I would have never written this letter. I wouldn't have done that.”
Note: Picture used only for representational purpose
Image: Students listen to U.S. President Barack Obama during a town hall meeting at St. Xavier's College in Mumbai November 7, 2010.
Photographs: Jim Young/Reuters