College principal's letter slamming Gujarat model sparks row

Last Updated: Wed, Apr 23, 2014 16:47 hrs

Mumbai: An advisory sent by the Principal of St Xavier's College to his students that is sharply critical of Narendra Modi's 'Gujarat Model' of development sparked a controversy on Wednesday and prompted a miffed BJP to lodge a complaint with the Election Commission.

Father Frazer Mascarenhas, however, defended his action, saying his note was not against any specific individual or party. The note, which drew mixed reactions, also praises the flagship schemes of Congress-led UPA Government.

Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in Mumbai, the note also advises students not to support leaders who are a threat to the secular fabric of India.

"The prospect of an alliance of corporate capital and communal forces coming to power constitutes a real threat to the future of our secular democracy," it said.

As a row erupted over his remarks and its timing and with BJP demanding its withdrawal. Father Mascarenhas said, "I have not mentioned any particular individual or organisation in my communication. It was intended only to serve as a broad understanding before students exercised their right to vote. There's nothing more to the letter."

The principal's email to his students which is also posted on the college website reads, "All the Human Development Index indicators and the cultural polarisation of the population show that Gujarat has had a terrible experience in the last 10 years."

The communication also acknowledges Congress's Food Security and Rojgar Yojana schemes.

Efforts like the Rojgar Yojana and the Food Security Act have been called "election sops", the note said, adding, "some of our best social scientists like Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have supported these as necessary in the emergency economic situation the country and the world is facing."

Mumbai BJP president Ashish Shelar said his party had lodged a complaint with the Election Commission, objecting to the principal's remarks, observing it was a violation of the model code of conduct.

"If he is trying to influence the minds of students who have come to learn from his institution, then it is certainly wrong," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said in Delhi.

Father Mascarenhas, however, got the backing of leaders of Congress, NCP and the National Conference who said he is free to express his views.

"He(Father) has every right under the Constitution to express his views," Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said. "If religious leaders, yoga teachers, media personalities and business tycoons can express an opinion why not college principals," asked Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and NC leader Omar Abdullah.

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