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Ashoka University Faculty Backs 2019 Election Study Prof, Alleges Interference

After Sabyasachi Das quits, economics department professor Pulapre Balakrishnan resigns.
Ashoka University. Credit:

Ashoka University. Image Courtesy:  

Ashoka University’s economics department has alleged that the institute’s governing body’s interference in investigating “the merits” of a study by assistant professor Sabyasachi Das that hinted at possible ‘manipulation’ by the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election will likely “precipitate an exodus of faculty”.


The research paper, titled ‘Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy’, was published by Das, a professor with the economics department, on the Social Science Research Network on July 25.

Das, who recently resigned after the research triggered a massive controversy, had documented “irregular patterns in the 2019 general election” and identifies “whether they are due to electoral manipulation or precise control, i.e., incumbent party’s ability to precisely predict and affect win margins through campaigning”.

A letter addressed to the university’s governing body by the department on Wednesday read: “The offer of resignation by our colleague professor Sabyasachi Das and its hasty acceptance by the university has deeply ruptured the faith that we in the faculty of the department of economics, our colleagues, our students, and well-wishers of Ashoka University everywhere had reposed in the university’s leadership,” the letter said.

Ashoka University

Claiming that Das “didn’t violate any accepted norm of academic practice”, the department wrote: “Academic research is professionally evaluated through a process of peer review. The governing body’s interference in this process to investigate the merits of his recent study constitutes institutional harassment, curtails academic freedom and forces scholars to operate in an environment of fear.”

The department “condemned this in the strongest terms” and refused as a “collective to cooperate in any future attempt to evaluate the research of individual economics faculty members by the governing body”, which includes chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee and vice-chancellor Somak Raychaudhury.

Alleging the governing body’s actions “pose an existential threat to the department, the letter warned: “It is likely to precipitate an exodus of faculty and prevent us from attracting new faculty.”

The development comes after another professor from the department, Pulapre Balakrishnan, resigned, The Wire reported. Balakrishnan, who has worked at Oxford University, the Indian Statistical Institute, the Indian Institute of Management in Kozhikode and the World Bank, has authored several well-regarded books, including India’s Economy from Nehru to Modi in 2022.

The department demanded that Das should be offered his position “unconditionally” and that the governing body should not play any role in “evaluating faculty research through any Committee or any other structure”.

If the issue is not addressed by August 23, the department wrote, it will “systematically wreck the largest academic department at Ashoka and the very viability of the Ashoka vision”.

The departments of English and creative writing too wrote to governing body. “We stand by our colleagues in the department of economics and echo their demand that professor Sabyasachi Das’s position in Ashoka be reinstated,” they wrote in an email.

Ashoka University

“We also demand accountability from the governing board and senior colleagues responsible for this debacle, and seek affirmation from the governing body that it will play no role in evaluating faculty research or make senior faculty carry out this exercise by appointing ad hoc committees or bodies,” the departments wrote.

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