A recent paper by economist Sabyasachi Das, suggesting electoral manipulation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, has ignited a debate on academic freedom in India. In the study published by the Social Science Research Network, Das pointed out that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured a significant number of closely contested seats in the 2019 election. The paper also alleged instances of “electoral manipulation,” including the removal of Muslim names from voter lists.
The paper’s findings sparked backlash and online trolling against Das, raising concerns about the freedom of academics to publish research that challenges the ruling party’s narrative. The BJP did not respond to requests for comment, while some of its members criticized the paper as “half-baked research” that discredited India’s electoral system.
Ashoka University, where Das is an assistant professor, distanced itself from the research, noting that the paper had not undergone a critical review process and had not been published in an academic journal. This move triggered criticism from the global academic community, highlighting concerns over academic independence and freedom of expression.
The incident occurs amid larger debates about the stifling of dissent and criticism in India. Since coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Modi’s government has taken actions against numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs), leading to funding constraints and closures of international charities such as Amnesty India and Greenpeace India. Activists, journalists, and lawyers have also faced arrests across the country, contributing to India’s decline in the World Press Freedom Rankings.
As India heads towards the next election, the incident underscores the challenges faced by academics, researchers, and journalists who seek to critically examine the electoral process and other sensitive issues within the country.