Jan. 24: University of Hyderabad vice-chancellor Appa Rao Podile on Sunday went on indefinite leave following "advice" from undeclared quarters.
But his temporary replacement became another red rag for students who have been agitating through a hunger strike over the death of research scholar Rohith Vemula a week ago.
The central university uploaded a notice saying that in the absence of Podile, the senior-most professor, Vipin Srivastava, would perform the duties of the vice-chancellor. But a student associated with the Joint Action Committee (JAC) spearheading the agitation said Srivastava had headed the sub-committee that recommended Rohith's punishment, which is believed to have driven him to death.
While confirming his leave of absence - whose duration has not been specified - Podile said he was "advised to be a little away from the campus". Asked whether he would take charge once normality returns, he replied in the affirmative, according to PTI.
Podile did not mention who had advised him to take such a step but a family member later said "well-meaning friends from Delhi" had given the advice.
Although the government is not expected to meddle in educational institutions, the human resource development ministry is known to have earlier given similar "advice" to vice-chancellors of unrest-hit varsities.
But Ghanshyam Goel, the information officer at the HRD ministry, denied tonight that any advice had been issued from the ministry to Podile. "It is not the ministry's decision," Goel said.
Podile too said the university "has not asked me to go on leave. The ministry has also not asked."
The issue is of significance because signals from Delhi since early last week had suggested that attempts were afoot to give a clean chit to the ministry and pin the blame on the varsity authorities. An HRD fact-finding team has more or less done so although the ministry had sent repeated reminders to the varsity on a complaint, filed by central minister Bangaru Dattatreya, against a students' group with which Rohith was associated.
The students have been demanding the resignation of Podile, Dattatreya and HRD minister Smriti Irani.
The Hyderabad varsity act and statute say that the Visitor (the President) has the right to advise the university. Besides, the planning board - made of persons of academic standing and headed by the vice-chancellor - can advise the executive council on academic matters.
An executive council member told The Telegraph that the council held a meeting on Friday where it revoked the punishment imposed on the Dalit scholars. But the council neither got any advice from the planning board nor did it give any to the vice-chancellor to go on leave, the member added.
The choice of Srivastava as Podile's stand-in has opened up another flank. "The JAC will not accept Vipin Srivastava as the in-charge," the student associated with the action committee said.
The JAC and the SC-ST Faculty Forum alleged that a Dalit PhD scholar had committed suicide in 2008 when Srivastava was dean. Srivastava did not provide any help when the student had shown signs of depression, a JAC member alleged.
Srivastava said tonight "that the matter has been sorted out" and expressed the hope that discussions would resolve the current impasse.
The JAC has called for a "Chalo Central University of Hyderabad" tomorrow when students from various universities are expected to reach the campus to join the agitation.
Rohith's mother Radhika was admitted to the ICU in a hospital tonight after she complained of chest pain, her other son Raja said.