The Gujarat Vidyapith is one of the few remaining bastions of Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy. Such is the zealousness towards Gandhian principles on the Vidyapith campus that anyone who heads it needs to be attired in khadi in day-to-day life. The compulsory Khadi attire was the reason why Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi ruled himself out as Vidyapith’s chancellor a few years ago.
Ruffles have now been feathered at this 102-year-old institute – the Gujarat Vidyapith was founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920 – after it was announced that for the first time, a person with an RSS background, and not a Gandhian, has been named chancellor of the university. This person is Gujarat Governor Acharya Devvrat.
It is worth mentioning that Gandhians, and Gandhi’s kin, have always maintained the RSS’ role in the Mahatma’s assassination.
The post became vacant a few months ago when Ela Bhatt, 89, the internationally known Gandhian activist and founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association, requested the council to accept her resignation on account of her age.
According to the Raj Bhawan’s website, Devvrat is former chief of the Haryana wing of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, a farmers’ wing of the RSS. Born in Pauti village in Haryana’s Samalkha tehsil in 1959, Devvrat was principal of Kurukshetra-based Gurukul when he was picked to be governor of Himachal Pradesh in 2015, before being posted to Gujarat four years later.
When he became governor for the first time, journalists asked him if Ramdev had any role in it. He replied: “He (Ramdev) has always been a guide and his blessings are with me. Gurukul is my family as I have spent 34 years of my life there. I feel it was the result of my hard work that I got this opportunity.”
The 24-member Vidyapith council passed the proposal to make Devvrat the chancellor on Tuesday, with 13 members approving it. Nine members, most of them Gandhians, voted against it, and two abstained. Vice-chancellor Rajendra Khimani voted in favour of Devvrat. Incidentally, on September 21, the Gujarat High Court set aside a petition filed by Khimani in March challenging a decision taken by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in November 2021 to remove him as V-C. A section of Gandhians has deplored the move, saying the “RSS has now gained a foothold” in the last remaining independent Vidyapith, a deemed university.
A trustee who voted against the resolution said, “Trustees are being pressured by the government to make such appointments. What is the reason for doing this? And why was it necessary at all? This is not a situation where an invitation is granted at the discretion of the trustees.” Another trustee who voted against the resolution said, “This proposal is detrimental to the institution.”
Senior journalist and author Urvish Kothari believes, “In an organisation such as RSS, we have not seen a person with a different ideology being appointed to the highest position. Then why a person with an opposite ideology in a Gandhian organisation? This is a Gandhian institution and no government appointment should be made here. What was the pressure on these 13 trustees that they decided not to give the top post of this institution to a Gandhian?”
Kumar Shah alleged the trustees were “saffronising the Vidyapith”. “The trustees and the vice-chancellor have invited the Sangh Parivar to saffronise the Vidyapeeth. It is sad that instead of deciding on the recent high court judgment to oust the vice-chancellor, the trustees have invited a staunch RSS person to head it,” he said.
Former state Congress chief Arjun Modhwadia also condemned the government’s move. “Ever since the BJP came to power in Gujarat, they have appointed their own people at the helm of Gandhian institutions,” he said.