Academics condemned India for the lack of freedom to publish research, after an economist was trolled on social media for a paper that posited electoral manipulation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party.
(Bloomberg) — Academics condemned India for the lack of freedom to publish research, after an economist was trolled on social media for a paper that posited electoral manipulation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party.
The landslide election win for Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019 had a disproportionate share of closely contested seats, Sabyasachi Das, assistant professor of economics at Ashoka University, said in a paper published by the Social Science Research Network. Das wrote that he found evidence of “electoral manipulation” such as deletion of Muslim names from voter lists.
Ashoka University seemed to distance itself from the research. “To the best of our knowledge, the paper in question has not yet completed a critical review process and has not been published in an academic journal,” the University said in a public statement. “Social media activity or public activism by Ashoka faculty, students or staff in their individual capacity does not reflect the stand of the University.” An email to Ashoka University’s chancellor wasn’t answered.
While the BJP didn’t respond to calls and an email from Bloomberg seeking comment, its member Nishikant Dubey said the the University’s statement was inadequate as the “half-baked research” discredited India’s electoral process. Das, who couldn’t be reached for comment, was also criticized by commentators perceived as close to the BJP.
The internet trolling and Ashoka’s disavowal of the research have drawn criticism from global academics. The incident comes as Modi tries to quell religious violence in two states governed by his party and widespread allegations about the BJP muzzling critics. Modi seeks re-election next year in the country with the highest number of voters and India typically sees a surge in published research about the electoral process in the run-up to the vote.
Since Modi came to power in 2014 his government has cracked down on hundreds of NGOs, choking them of funds. The move forced several international charities such as Amnesty India and Greenpeace India to shut operations in the country. Activists, lawyers and journalists have also been arrested across the country and India has seen a decline on the World Press Freedom Rankings amid increased internet shutdowns.
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