Exactly 15 years after one of his students was arrested for allegedly “damaging religious feelings” through two of his paintings, a crowd gathered outside the Faculty of Fine Arts at MS University (MSU ) in Vadodara on May 5 to disrupt the jury’s evaluation of the final- works of the first-year students. BJP leader Hasmukh Vaghela, a member of the university’s top union MSU, led the protest. The protest, party insiders said, was the result of a factional wrangling within the BJP for control of the Syndicate.
Vaghela was first elected to the Syndicate in February 2021 by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) backed group Sankalan Samiti. The 38-year-old is also a member of the BJP’s municipal unit, twice served as a member of the institution’s Senate and an alumnus of the university’s pharmacy department. On Thursday, he attempted to burst into the appraisal room to “examine objectionable works of art” that “did not respect gods and goddesses”. The protest was sparked after photos of the allegedly objectionable artwork went viral on social media.
At the protest, the BJP leader was accompanied by Hindu Jagran Manch lawyer Niraj Jain. Jain, a former Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, was the plaintiff in the 2007 case in which Chandramohan, a fine arts student, was arrested. As right-wing protesters shouted slogans and warned students of the “consequences of disrespecting religious feelings,” a group of students stood between them and the jury room. Jain and Vaghela got into a verbal argument with teachers in the department and demanded that they be allowed into the hall to ‘check for obscene artwork’.
But professors at the Faculty of Fine Arts did not relent and told the two that the artwork in the social media photos was not part of the assessment. Threatening faculty members, Vaghela said, “This faculty has a reputation for engaging in such blasphemous activities related to religion. History testifies to their anti-Hindu mindset which is reflected in their annual exhibitions and actions on many occasions. We will not tolerate this. We will file a complaint with the Minister of Education to take strict action.
Jain argued that the department violated a resolution passed after the Chandramohan incident. According to the lawyer, the resolution stipulated that a committee of experts would examine works of art considered for exhibition in order to remove those that “cause provocation or hurt feelings”.
Following the scuffle, the university set up a nine-member Board of Investigation to investigate the incident and suspended the annual exhibit – it would have been the first since the start of the Covid-pandemic. 19. “These works of art were not part of our assessments and so obviously they were not intended for public display,” Dean Jayaram Poduval said. “The executives whose images are circulating were planted as part of a plot to tarnish the image of the faculty and disrupt the review.”
A senior BJP leader in the city said the controversy was the result of an ongoing fight between Sankalan Samiti and the MSU team, which also consists of BJP leaders, for control of the highest body in the city. ‘university. At present, 12 of the 15 elected members of the Syndicate belong to the MSU team (nine of them won no contest) while Sankalan Samiti has three members – Vaghela, who won no contest, and two other elected in the teacher category. The current representative of the Faculty of Fine Arts in the Senate is member Samiti Bipin Patel. His wife Ambika is a professor at the Faculty and is part of the investigation committee.
A senior BJP official who supports the MSU team said, “It is a fact that on the MSU campus, Sankalan Samiti, comprising the core members of the BJP and backed by the RSS, is trying to gain more control over the seats. The current controversy at the Faculty of Fine Arts should benefit the Samiti since Dean Jayaram Poduval is from the MSU team. The Sankalan Samiti has eyed the post to back one of his main contenders for the post, which will automatically land him a seat in the Senate. By default, all faculty deans are members of the Senate. So, if Poduval leaves his post, the MSU team will also lose a seat in the Senate. For union elections, held every three years, only members of the Senate can vote. At the moment, the MSU team benefits directly from the Syndicate due to the majority it enjoys in the Senate.
The BJP leader said no one supports “disrespect for religion” through artworks, but whether the artworks the crowd protested against were part of the submissions remains to be proven. “No one will like art being used to hurt religious feelings. Then the exhibit had not opened and the allegations were made during a closed-door evaluation process… The commission d The investigation will deliver its report but it cannot be denied that this controversy could have been avoided by waiting for the start of the public exhibition. In the event of something reprehensible, it could have been raised through an appropriate complaint. less, one can expect as much restraint from a member of the Syndicate.
Vaghela is no stranger to controversy. After being elected to the Syndicate, he made allegations of irregularities in the appointments of teaching and non-teaching staff at the university and made representations to Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and Education Minister Jitu Vaghani. In 2018, he sparked an uproar at the annual Senate meeting by demanding the suspension of two students from the Institute of Leadership and Governance for meeting with former JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar. “MSU should not fall prey to communist forces…these students should be suspended or they will smash Gujarat to pieces,” he said at the meeting.