A professor who declared equal agreement with Mahatma Gandhi and his killer Nathuram Godse and branded student demonstrators at Jawaharlal Nehru University as “Naxal organisations” that should be outlawed has been named the university’s first female vice-chancellor.
Students and others criticised Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit’s old tweets, which referred to farmer agitators as “liars and losers,” anti-citizenship-act demonstrators as “jihadis,” and Trinamul as a “terrorist” party, shortly after she took leadership on Monday.
Pandit, a former professor of politics and public administration at Savitribai Phule Pune University, succeeds M. Jagadesh Kumar, who has been named head of the University Grants Commission. Kumar has been accused of suppressing dissent at JNU, which is considered a leftist stronghold.
While Kumar was a “closet Sanghi,” N. Sai Balaji, a research fellow at JNU, claimed Pandit’s tweets revealed she was “openly propagating bigotry and intolerance against specific communities, parties, and demonstrators.”
According to her curriculum vitae on the Pune university website, Pandit was born in the Russian city of St Petersburg in 1962 and received her PhD from JNU’s School of International Relations.
Some of the chapters she has written to multi-author books have the names “Hindutva as a Political Ideology” and “The Rise of Hindu Nationalism in India,” according to her CV. One of the papers she’s given at seminars is titled “Hindutva: From Savarkar to the BJP.”
Pandit did not return phone calls or emails from this newspaper attempting to understand the logic behind her tweets and her response to accusations that she was biassed.
Pandit’s old tweets, which had gotten a lot of attention since morning, were accessible during the day, but her Twitter account seemed to vanish late in the evening.
“Introducing the new VC of JNU – certainly a role model of scholarship for its students and staff,” farmer leader Yogendra Yadav had tweeted about Pandit’s posts on the yearlong farmers’ movement.
“Farmers, so-called parasitic middlemen led by Yo Ya and Tikiat are liars and losers,” Pandit tweeted in May of last year.
The message, which looked to be directed at Yadav and another farmer leader Rakesh Tikait, was in reaction to a tweet from BJP worker Priti Gandhi that claimed, “Thanks to #FarmLaws, farmers in India are reaping gold.”
“Expected all riff raff, parasites, and Dalals this so-called farmers’ movement and AAP,” Pandit wrote in another tweet from the same month.
“If BJP is a party of Godse, then all parties that support Muslims, including TMC, are a party of all terrorists, invaders who raped and destroyed Hindu sacred areas,” Pandit said during anti-CAA rallies in December 2020. They support Bengal’s butchers.”
“I would agree both Gandhi and Godse, both read Gita and believed and took contrary lessons,” she remarked in one of her tweets about Godse. Godse believed that action was necessary and saw the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi as the key to an unified India. Sad.”
“So what is her view,” another tweet, reportedly in response to a critic of the CAA around the time Shaheen Bagh in Delhi had become the epicentre of the protests, said. Jihadis in Saheen Bagh are saying even harsher things. Worse are the Owaisis. You dismiss them or even refer to them as secular.”
“Losers from JNU who have lost control,” Pandit tweeted in January 2020, after strangers entered JNU and attacked students protesting a fee hike. Campuses should be free of radical Naxal groups. Stop financing Jamia and St Stephens, which are both communal campuses.”
Students at JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia University had organised protests against government policies such as citizenship and the reduction of funds to public colleges. Police were accused of breaking into Jamia in December 2019 and assaulting students who were protesting the CAA. St Stephens is a Church-owned and operated institution.
Pandit was free to voice her thoughts, according to A.K. Mohapatra, dean of JNU’s School of International Studies.
“She is an excellent student. She has the right to express herself. “Whether she is prejudiced or unbiased is a matter of opinion,” Mohapatra explained.
Pandit’s term would be five years, according to a decree from the Ministry of Education.
The JNU administration prepared a press release to disseminate a message from Pandit, whose syntax and punctuation indicated hasty authoring.
“As vice-chancellor of JNU, I appreciate the Hon’ble Prime Minister and Minister of Higher Education for providing me with this opportunity as the first woman and alumna of this respected University from the State of Tamil Nadu,” the statement added.
“This administration’s first focus would be to establish a clean administration, a student-friendly atmosphere, and a gender-sensitive environment for academic performance.” We would try to put our Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision of NEP (National Education Policy) 2020 into action, particularly in multidisciplinary and multi-disciplinary areas of study, with JNU rising to greater heights in academics and research. The emphasis would be on creating Indo-centric stories. I’m excited to collaborate with students, instructors, and staff to help us achieve these goals.”