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The Rediff Interview/Lucknow University VC R P Singh
'My fight is against students with criminal records'
December 18, 2006
Lucknow University Vice Chancellor R P Singh has been in the eye of a storm since last week when he declared his decision to hold student union elections strictly in accordance with the recommendations of the J M Lyngdoh Committee appointed by the Supreme Court.
Politicians of all hues, including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, have trained their guns on him simply because he refused to buckle under pressure. Undaunted by the odds, the 65-year-old Singh who heads the 85-year-old institution -- India's largest residential university with 38,000 students on its rolls -- is prepared to take on all comers. He not only declared sine die closure of the university but also ordered vacation of all hostels and a year's moratorium on holding student elections.
Though his actions received wide appreciation from many quarters, Singh has not only earned the wrath of political masters, but has also received many death threats.
"Some student leaders have issued an open threat to eliminate me and all teachers who supported me in enforcing the decision to close the university and seven of its affiliated colleges sine die, following large scale vandalism and violence on the campuses," Singh told rediff.com's Sharat Pradhan in a candid interview.
What is the motive behind your actions?
I left a comfortable job at IIT,-Kharagpur to take up the VC's assignment here with one mission -- to restore the lost glory of Lucknow University. There was ever increasing political interference and unabated criminal activities on the campus. The implementation of the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations was the first step in that direction.
You have been VC for nearly two years now; what was the sudden provocation to cleanse the place?
Well, I had made up my mind shortly after I took over on January 5, 2005. Actually, barely after five days in office, some notorious students tried to brow-beat me by intimidating me in my office. Even though I made it explicit to them that I would not get cowed down, I preferred not to react immediately. However, I always drove home the point that the rowdy elements would have to mend their ways.
Then what happened now?
I was busy preparing a list of crooks, who did not number more than 200. Clearly they were the ones who were holding the university to ransom. They would intimidate teachers and terrorise students. They were responsible for spreading indiscipline on the campus, where no one was safe. While I was still preparing my rogues gallery, came the Supreme Court order on implementing the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations for holding student union elections. The order banned students with criminal antecedents from contesting, besides imposing an age limit on those entering the electoral fray. In Lucknow University, you will find student leaders sticking along for years simply because they have some axe to grind.
There is a ban against criminals participating in state assembly and Parliament polls as well�
No, there is a marked difference. Unlike the assembly and Parliament elections, in which a conviction is necessary to disallow participation, the Lyngdoh Committee bars students against whom criminal proceedings are pending. So as soon as I declared an election schedule, there was instant resentment from those who were to be affected by the new rule.
But it is said that you decided to enforce the Lyngdoh recommendations without even a formal approval by the University Executive Council, which is the highest governing body of the institution?
(Laughs) You do not need anybody's approval to enforce a declared law, specially when it has the stamp of the country's apex court.
Why do you think the chief minister is not backing you in your mission to reform the university? He has even called you a dictator.
Isn't it amply evident? Well, the chief minister has been extending open patronage to most of the undesirable students who are directly associated with his party. I would not like to comment on what he has been saying about me.
When you became VC, it was widely perceived that your Etawah connection with Mulayam was responsible for getting you the top job.
(Smiles) Well, it is true that I have an Etawah connection. I did my schooling from there as my father was posted there in the fifties and early sixties. I also had pretty good relations with the chief minister. I always respected him for his grit and down-to-earth approach. But I must say that somehow he always displayed a soft corner for students who don't deserve to be in the university.
Could you describe what kind of rogues you have on the university rolls?
There were dozens of them facing charges including murder, attempt to murder, extortion, kidnapping, rioting and other heinous crimes. The university hostels have turned into active criminal dens. According to my knowledge, there were at least 500 unlicensed firearms and other weapons on the campus.
But how do you substantiate your charge of official patronage to such rogues?
About 20 to 30 of them are being provided official security. Just imagine, these crooks who pose a serious threat to others, are given official protection on the plea that their lives are 'in danger'.
Did you talk to the chief minister or other senior government functionaries about this?
I did not speak to the chief minister but I did write to the government for withdrawal of security given to those who had criminal cases against them. But no cooperation was forthcoming from the government. I also urged the administration to cancel arms licences given to some student leaders. Even when they would come to meet me, they remained heavily armed and with their official gunners in tow.
I suspended a student leader Ram Singh Rana after he beat up a staff member. But you know who came pleading for him -- the chief minister's son and member of Parliament Akhilesh Yadav, who requested me to pardon the fellow this time. He also undertook a guarantee to ensure that Rana would not indulge in any further violence, but the fellow was back at his old game again.
What is it that attracts crooks to student politics?
It is the lure of the lucre. Most of the student leaders are also into government construction contracts, where muscle power dominates. They also grab most of the contracts in the university, which spends more than Rs 2 crore on repair and maintenance alone. They manage to get away with sub-standard work and no one dares question their bills and payments.
But don't you think this must be carried out with the connivance of some university officials too?
Of course. We do have some undesirable persons in the faculty as well as among the non-teaching staff. In fact, I took punitive action against an executive engineer who was neck deep in this kind of pilferage of money. I have also ordered a special audit of all construction work undertaken between 2000 and 2005 and I am convinced that extremely poor construction work was carried out during the period.
But why was it that even top state officials including Chief Secretary Naveen Bajpai and Director General of Police Bua Singh have been opposing your reforms?
Perhaps they have their own compulsions. Otherwise why should a chief secretary and DGP not only entertain complaints from student leaders facing grave criminal charges, but also go to the extent of seeking my explanation against those complaints.
Despite your good intentions, you have failed to get support even from opposition parties who are otherwise gunning for Mulayam and condemning the state's law and order.
It was really unfortunate. In a nutshell, I see this as a reflection of the grim reality that criminalisation of politics is complete in UP. Apparently, all of them were guided by the politics of vote and looking for ways and means to garner support of criminals in the garb of students to help them in poll malpractices like booth capturing.
Under the circumstances, how do you hope to achieve your mission?
I am confident of restoring order on the campus. I will rid the campus of criminal elements. Throw them out and Lucknow University once again becomes a centre of learning. I have already suspended 165 such students and will not hesitate to take severe action against others with criminal backgrounds. After all the bulk of the students come here to study and they want a peaceful academic environment. And now taking serious note of the developments on the campus, even the UP high court has directed the state government to provide immediate security and ensure vacation of hostels latest by December 17.
Do you think you could have had a smooth stint if you turned a blind eye to all misdeeds on the campus and remained a rubber-stamp?
Absolutely. I have enough experience of rubber-stamps as my father was a post-master. But I am a physicist, who was never cut out to become a rubber-stamp -- be it that of the chief minister or anybody else.
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