Yogesh Soman, Director of Mumbai University’s Academy of Theatre Arts.
Action against a senior Mumbai University (MU) faculty member for “objectionable remarks” against Congress MP Rahul Gandhi sparked a political row on Tuesday. Yogesh Soman, Director of Mumbai University’s Academy of Theatre Arts, was on Monday sent on compulsory leave by the university following protests by members of Congress youth wing National Students Union of India (NSUI), All India Students Federation (AISF) and Chhatra Bharati.
On Monday, students of the theatre academy, with support from NSUI, AISF and Chhatra Bharati, staged a sit-in at the Kalina campus. As the protest went on till late night, Registrar Ajay Deshmukh is learnt to have assured protesters that Soman is being sent on compulsory leave. A letter to students by Deshmukh also stated that a fact-finding committee fill be formed to probe into Soman’s conduct, and a report will be submitted within four weeks.
On December 14, Soman had posted a video on Facebook and Twitter, addressing Rahul. The video was made after Rahul, at a rally, had said: “I’m Rahul Gandhi, not Rahul Savarkar.” The Congress leader had said this after he was asked to apologise for comparing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative to ‘Rape in India’.
In the video, Soman is heard saying: “You truly aren’t Savarkar. The truth is, you aren’t a true Gandhi either. You don’t have any of the values.” He added that he is protesting against “Gandhi’s Pappugiri”.
NSUI first protested against the 51-second video on December 24, with its members gheraoing the vice-chancellor’s office and submitting a memorandum. On December 28, it filed a complaint against Soman at BKC police station. This was followed by a protest rally on January 9, where Soman’s effigy was burnt.
“Merely sending Soman on compulsory leave is not enough. He must be sacked from the director’s post immediately. Yogesh Soman has been appointed illegally and he does not conduct any lecture. Students say he is attempting to impose a particular ideology on them,” NSUI national secretary Nikhil Kamble said.
BJP leader Ashish Shelar said: “It has been learnt that Congress and Left wing students have threatened Yogesh Soman. Isn’t this an act of intolerance?... For the past few days, dissatisfaction is being created among students of cultural and academic institutions, distancing them from education. Isn’t this intolerance?”
To this, Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant retorted, “Given the instances of intolerance we have been seeing in our country, no BJP member has the right to speak about intolerance. Speaking of Yogesh Soman, any government employee should refrain from political statements. This is the government’s rule. If Soman has been participating in political events, it’s at the behest of BJP. We are proud of NSUI for taking steps to save the Constitution. Sending him on compulsory leave is not sufficient. His conduct has shown that he is not adhering to government rules.”
Chhatra Bharati, an independent organisation, said students have complaints against Soman’s handling of the theatre academy.
Apurva Ingle, a first-year MA student in theatre arts and cultural secretary of Chhatra Bharati, said: “We are not related to NSUI. We only want to request the V-C that our new director should have a solid vision and reputed personality. Most of our faculty can’t teach. Soman has been recruiting his peers from Pune, where he hails from. He is unapproachable and unfriendly. We will continue to fight till Soman tenders his resignation.”
Despite several attempts, Soman remained unavailable for comment.