An uncanny silence has enveloped the campus of Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI). Barring a handful, a majority of the faculty and staff refuse to talk about the institutes' Vice-Chancellor, Professor Talat Ahmad.
Last week, President Pranab Mukherjee gave his nod to the MHRD to initiate a probe against the VC. The probe, which will be conducted by the UGC, will examine the allegations against Ahmad.
While the allegations against Ahmad are several, one in particular stands out the most - his appointment. Professor Ahmad joined Jamia as the VC on 29 April 2014 - a day when the Election Commission of India's Model Code of Conduct was in force.
Also Read: 6 reasons MHRD wants Jamia VC probed
Why is this important?
The Model Code of Conduct is a set of rules and guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on the conduct of political parties and candidates during elections. Among the set of rules are two noteworthy points that shed a whole new light on Ahmad's appointment. These are:
Government bodies are not to participate in any recruitment process during the electoral process.
The ruling party ministers should not make any ad-hoc appointment of officials, which may influence the voters in favour of the party in power.
In other words, the ruling party cannot make any important appointment or recruitment once the code of conduct has been enforced in the country.
The 2014 Indian General Elections, which saw the Narendar Modi-led BJP government come into power, was held in nine phases - from 7 April to 12 May 2014. The code came into force on 5 March 2014, after the ECI announced the dates of the general election. It remained in force till 12 May, which marked the end of the electoral process.
A closer look at the JMI VC's appointment
Talat Ahmad's appointment letter was issued by the HRD Ministry, under the then-UPA II government, during the time of the National Elections 2014.
Catch has a copy of the appointment letter of Professor Ahmad, provided by the MHRD to complainant Siddiqui through an RTI response.
Here's a quick timeline of events leading up to his appointment:
21 April, 2014: Officer on Special Duty to the President of India informed the MHRD about the selection of Ahmad as the new VC of JMI.
Deputy Secretary Surat Singh then moved a note to the then HRD minister Pallam Raju about the decision. Since the Joint Secretary (Central University & Language) was on Election Duty, the note went to the Education Secretary (ES).
23 April, 2014: The ES hand-wrote on the file: "We need to issue (the order) soon. Pl take telephonic orders of HRM" and marked it to the Personal Secretary of HRM.
24 April, 2014: The ES wrote again: "HRM has been apprised. Orders may be issued."
According to the sources, the appointment of VCs in 16 central universities was also due at the time. However, the UPA government displayed undue haste in the appointment of Professor Ahmad despite the Model Code of Conduct being in force.
Pallam Raju on Ahmad's appointment
Catch got in touch with the former HRD minister Dr Pallam Raju over Professor Talat Ahmad's appointment. "I don't remember anything in this regard. At that time, we were all caught up in division of Andhra. I had submitted my resignation at that time and was not taking any policy-related decision," he said.
When asked about the Education Secretary's handwritten note on the VC's appointment file, Raju said, "It could have happened in a routine manner. I wasn't applying my mind at that time. I remember the process of appointing VCs was initiated at that time. We had shortlists, which were submitted but decided not to appoint anyone at that time. Because it was right before we stepped off. It wouldn't be appropriate. But I don't remember anything specific about Jamia Milia Islamia. I do remember little bit of controversy of a doctorate being given to Najeeb Jung."
Only one of many charges against Jamia VC
Professor Talat Ahmad, a geologist by profession and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kashmir, took over as Jamia VC in 2014.
Over the last two years, he has been accused of financial irregularities of up to Rs 2.39 crore, outsourcing admission-portal work without inviting tenders, scrapping SC/ST quotas in teaching and non-teaching staff, along with irregularities in appointments and college admissions and many more.
The 'visitorial inquiry' comes almost a year after Obaid Siddiqui, former director of Jamia's media research centre, approached the Delhi high court in 2015, demanding an inquiry against the VC on charges of financial and administrative irregularities.
The UGC is currently apprising the appointment of Professor Talat Ahmad.
Edited by Blassy Boben