India’s liberal arts academics might walk around with a swagger in their cocooned ivory towers, but as soon as they step out into the real world, they don’t come out looking so good.
After PM Modi had spoken about how he and his friends had done a Satyagraha for the freedom of Bangladesh, Ashoka University Professor Srinath Raghavan appeared to fact check him. “The claim that ANYONE did satyagraha for the freedom of Bangladesh and were arrested is too ridiculous to require refutation,” he declared.
Now Srinath Raghavan is someone who you’d expect to know what he’s talking about — he’s the Head of the Department, International Relations at Ashoka University, and a Professor of International Relations and History. But as netizens quickly pointed out, it was apparent that Professor Raghavan was talking out of his hat.
On August 12, 1971, the Times of India had carried the headline “10,000 Jana Sangh men court arrest in Delhi.” “Over 10,000 Jan Sangh workers, including 1,200 women and children, courted arrest here today on the 12th and the last day of the “Recognize Bangla Desh satyagraha,” the report had said. It had also added that Atal Bihari Vajpayee had also held a massive rally on the India Gate lawns at the Satyagraha.
Another news report from 2nd August said that 1,100 Jana Sangh members had courted arrest in a Satyagraha demanding the recognition of Bangla Desh.
There were also pictures of the Jan Sangh members courting arrest.
There was also video footage of the Satyagraha that people dug up.
And to top it all, the Bangladesh government itself had said that Atal Bihari Vajpayee had played an active part in the liberation of Bangladesh in its citation for the Bangladesh Liberation War Honour it had bestowed upon him.
But Srinath Raghavan, even after such overwhelming evidence, refused to delete his tweet. After these news clippings went viral, the Ashoka University professor began getting trolled.
“Does twitter has stupid tick to put? This guy needs one,” wrote a Twitter user.
“Not a good time for @Ashoka University profs ! getting fact-checked in real time by dozens of other citizens :)” wrote another.
Some people said that with professors of this calibre, they’d think twice about sending their kids to Ashoka University.
One would think that at this point it would’ve been wise to delete the tweet and apologize, but Srinath Raghavan only appeared to double down. “For those who still don’t get it: the Jana Sangh agitation after the Indo-Soviet treaty in Aug 1971 was for the recognition of the Bangladesh provisional government – not satyagraha for ‘freedom of Bangladesh’ as being billed today,” he tweeted.
But his supposed explanation led to even more trolling. “By that logic, Congress Satyagraha before 1947 was for Dominion status not free India. That led to freedoms of India, that’s why Congressmen claim to be freedom fighters. You are trying to be clever by half,” wrote a Twitter user.
Others pointed out that Bangladesh was finally liberated in December 1971, so a Satyagraha in August by the Jana Sangh was very much for the freedom of Bangladesh.
Yet others said that Srinath Raghavan was tying himself up in knots to correct what had been a massive error, and his behaviour was ‘pathetic’. “By the way, if we go by your original tweet, how is the idea of satyagraha for a provisional govt and going to prison in the process any less weird/unbelievable than a satyagraha for freedom. Like, when you were caught pants down, all you could do is clutching at trivia. Pathetic,” wrote a Twitter user.
And soon the venerable Ashoka University Professor was being trolled worse than before. “For those who still don’t get it: the farmers are protesting to get inside delhi and ghreao parliament. Not to oppose 3 farm laws,” wrote a Twitter user, mocking Srinath Raghavan’s explanation.
“A lamer “I screwed up but I’m too proud to admit it” tweet is difficult to come by,” wrote another.
As of writing, Srinath Raghavan’s tweet is still resolutely up. Raghavan’s behaviour seems emblematic of the time warp that liberal arts academia finds itself in — until even a couple of decades ago, professors could get away with spouting outright falsehoods by the dint of their degrees and positions; now with social media, their claims can be fact-checked in real time, and exposed for the world to see. While Srinath Raghavan appears willing to go down with the ship and is still giving explanations, the internet is having a hearty laugh at his expense. The only losers in this entire situation might be the students of Ashoka University, who’re paying nearly half a crore for an education that now appears to be inferior to the one being dished out by Twitter.