To Question Harvard’s Silence on Jayant Sinha Would Be Naive

Harvard University would be hypocritical to condemn Jayant Sinha for garlanding those convicted of lynching.

4 min read
Image of Union Minister Jayant Sinha and Harvard Uni used for representational purposes.

Jayant Sinha, one of the urbane and sophisticated faces of the Narendra Modi government, has recently caused outrage by felicitating and garlanding persons convicted (not merely accused) of lynching a man called Alimuddin Ansari on “charges” of carrying beef.

Harvard’s Dubious Moral Standards

As a sort of defense which only BJP spokespersons can manage, we are told that the convicted persons belong to the minister’s parliamentary constituency (so what?). The minister claims that he has “honoured the due process of law”, which takes brazenness to an all-new level, since the act of garlanding these convicts not only legitimises, but glorifies the gruesome act of mob lynching. Under the Modi government, reports of lynching of minorities have become so routine as to hardly stir the public. However, Jayant Sinha’s actions have touched a raw nerve.

Interestingly, much of the outrage is because of his IIT-Harvard education. Many have tagged the Harvard University Twitter account, asking whether Harvard is dismayed at its alumnus’ actions.

Some have asked Harvard why it is silent on Jayant Sinha, when it promptly acted against Subramaniam Swamy. Swamy had written an article suggesting that the voting rights of India’s Muslims be restricted. Harvard removed him from its summer school faculty. Some of our chatterati are so sure of Harvard dispensing justice that they ignore that the university can hardly act against Sinha since he is not associated with it in any active way (unlike Swamy). For Harvard to even condemn Sinha’s actions would be an act of rank hypocrisy.

It “welcomed home” alumnus Henry Kissinger with a standing ovation in 2012 – a man whose actions led to the deaths of many thousands of innocents. And that is just one example.

A Culture of Self-Aggrandizement

Today a union minister – someone who has taken an oath of office to uphold the Constitution – has stooped so low as to felicitate those convicted of public lynching. Sinha’s actions make it harder for the administration and judiciary to work in an impartial manner.

This cardinal aspect has been highlighted in a sobering statement issued by a group of retired civil servants, who have, correctly in my view, demanded Jayant Sinha’s resignation – not because his educational background somehow makes his actions worse, but because felicitating convicts is bad enough by itself.

Sinha’s actions have disrupted the usual comfortable thinking of our middle-class that lynchings, provocative statements, riots, etc are the handiwork of ‘corrupt’ and ‘dirty’ mofussil politicians.

But was Sinha really acting against the grain of what has made him successful in the first place? It is easy, comforting and profoundly wrong to equate big credentials with a big heart and a sense of ethics. It is no secret that a success at any cost mentality pervades places like IIT, Harvard Business School, and the consulting firm McKinsey (Sinha has been associated with all three).

Further, this attitude takes a very personal dimension – success here stands for personal enrichment: for the enhancement of one’s own power, fame, and influence. Some insiders of these institutions have raised concerns about this culture.

A recent book – Shut Down the Business School, by ex-business school professor Martin Parker, documents this trend.

Many senior academics associated with the top business schools in America, in light of the 2008 financial crisis caused by the reckless speculation of the alumni of these schools, suggested revising the syllabi, with a higher component of humanistic inquiry, such as philosophy, history and literature, to partly counter this ruthless mentality.

Of Dharma & Karma

The consternation that is being expressed on Twitter and elsewhere suggests that Sinha’s actions have bought disrepute to these famous institutions. However, it can be argued that Sinha is simply using the playbook that he mastered at these institutions in his current endeavour – politics.

He is relentlessly chasing his own success. In his party (BJP), today that includes felicitating those convicted of lynching. It highlights to loyalists, that Sinha is ideologically committed and that he will protect their people when required.

After all, Sinha’s party colleagues were present at the funeral of one of the alleged killers of Akhlaq.

The man’s body was wrapped in the tricolor, no less, while elected representatives watched. One of our great epics has an important lesson which we would do well to remember in this context. When she was being disrobed, Draupadi had asked the assembly – which included persons renowned for their knowledge – why had they lost their dharma, that is, their sense of ethics.

The many learned men present that day could only answer her through their silence.

The Mahabharata reminds us that even the most skillful and learned can ignore the demands of dharma due to the pressures of money, power, and patronage – we should judge our leaders by their karma (action), not merely on the basis of their credentials.

(The writer is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Missouri, USA. He has taught philosophy at St Stephen’s College, Delhi. He can be reached at @ritwik_agrawal. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

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