/Inviting Yogi Adityanath for IIT Kanpur's Startup Master Class is Disturbing and Ironic

Inviting Yogi Adityanath for IIT Kanpur's Startup Master Class is Disturbing and Ironic

This is an opinion piece by Samarth Bansal, IIT Kanpur alumnus and former Chief Editor of Vox Populi who graduated in 2015. The views conveyed in the article are solely of the author. The opinion section of Vox Populi provides a platform for the campus junta to voice their opinions.

Browsing through my LinkedIn feed on Saturday afternoon, I came across this post:

“We are honored to have Mr.Yogi Adityanath as our Chief guest for Startup Master Class 2018 @ IIT Kanpur on 27-28th Jan, 2018.”

To be sure, I read it again: Startup Master Class, an initiative of the IIT Kanpur Alumni Association, which aims to “foster and nurture budding entrepreneurs, bring together startups, mentors and investors to build interactions and strengthen the network within the entrepreneurial community”, has invited Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, as Chief Guest of the event.

Let’s understand what it really means: a priest-turned-politician, a firebrand Hindu cleric, who rose to power by spiking divisive rhetoric, by making sure that the communal politics stays alive in this country, has been invited as the Chief Guest of a flagship entrepreneurship event.

In words of Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of the foremost public intellectuals in India and now the Vice-Chancellor of Ashoka University, Yogi “is widely regarded as the single most divisive, abusive, polarising figure in UP politics. He is a politician who has, for most of his political career, been the mascot of militant Hindu sectarianism, reactionary ideas, routinised conflict and thuggery in political discourse, and an ecosystem where the vilest legitimations of violence are not far away.”

This man, the organisers of this event believe, is suited to be the Chief Guest of this mega entrepreneurship event. I am astonished by their judgement. Sure, he is the Chief Minister of the state where the campus is located. But don’t the organisers find any contradiction between the idea behind the entrepreneurship event and the politics of Yogi, which espouses muscular  Hindu nationalism?

Entrepreneurship and innovation are key to solve some of the major challenges that this country — and the world — is facing. But Yogi’s world view is antithetical to the stated goals of startups and incompatible with progress, prosperity and change, which innovative entrepreneurship aims to promote. Inviting him to this event is not only disturbing, but ironic.

The description of UP Chief Minister in the preceding paragraphs is not an interpretation: Yogi wears his politics up to his sleeves and advocates it vehemently. His rabble-rousing hate speeches are publicly available on YouTube. Given a chance, he said, he would install statues of Goddess Gauri, Ganesh and Nandi in every mosque. In 2015, during the ‘rising intolerance’ debate, he compared Shahrukh Khan to Hafiz Saeed. More in this video:

Lest my argument be misunderstood, note two points.

First, I am not arguing that IIT Kanpur should make a political statement by not allowing Yogi to enter the campus on any occasion—far from it. Someday, say, the Uttar Pradesh government plans to set up a new lab or a research park at IIT Kanpur, it is but obvious that Yogi, the head of this government, should be the one to launch it. But that’s not the case here. This is an independent event, where there was no official obligation to invite the CM.

Second, it’s not about right-wing politics in general—as I am sure some would have already painted my case as an ideological argument. Yogi is not just another politician. He is a fringe politician, an extremist, who is under investigation for inciting religious hatred and rioting. Account for that difference.

So is that it that the organisers believe that as long as the larger goal of the success of the event is met — the presence of CM would definitely help get sponsors, media coverage, and more — his personality and past record don’t matter at all? If they think so, it’s really unfortunate.

And even then, what credentials does Yogi otherwise have to be a good choice as Chief Guest at this event? Unlike Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who as Chief Minister of Gujarat had initiated business-friendly reforms, Yogi has no record to showcase.

Let me be clear here: I am proud of what the E-Cell has achieved in the current decade. Current students won’t even know what went into setting up this organisation. I poignantly remember E-Cell’s first session in 2011, held in L-7, when I was a fresher. Not more than ten students attended that introductory lecture. Talking about entrepreneurship was an oddity.

But that was then. In 2015, the year when I graduated, E-Cell had grown exponentially. This is a result of a sustained effort by successive E-Cell teams, cutting across batches.

As someone who has closely observed this rise — my efforts were mostly directed towards building a community of startup enthusiasts and knowledge sharing through campus hangouts and lectures — I consider the invitation to Yogi a big low in this stupendous journey.

To get some perspective, I spoke to a couple of students (current and former members associated with E-Cell) and asked what do they think (in their personal capacity and not as representatives of the club) are the potential justifications for Yogi’s invitation. The first student said it would be good to expose him to the various expectations that young students and future entrepreneurs have from their leader. The second one said that as Chief Minister when he gets to know some problems first hand, he can contribute to the progress of the institute and the startup ecosystem.

In the first reading, these appear to be legitimate reasons. But in practice, both are just theoretical constructs. In my view, these arguments are not strong enough to outweigh the concerns I have highlighted.

Let me bring up one more issue. There is no doubt that the Startup Master Class has an excellent speaker line-up. But one fact is striking: of the 32 speakers listed in the programme schedule, there is just one woman. One out of thirty-two—this is worse than the already poor student sex ratio of the campus. How tragic. Were any efforts made to fix this imbalance? I don’t know. But to console myself, I would like to believe that the organisers at least acknowledge that this is a problem and have noted that in future events, they will have a better mix — say at least 25-30% women to begin with, as compared to 3% this time.

But well, this gender imbalance might not even be an issue for our Chief Guest. In an essay published on Yogi’s website (now deleted, archive copy here), the CM said that women need male protection from birth to death and their ‘energy/power’ should be regulated or controlled, lest it become worthless and destructive. This is the man who will give the keynote address at India’s best engineering college to encourage entrepreneurship. I have nothing more to say.

The author can be reached at [email protected]