Sunday, December 3, 2023

Ashoka University’s disavowal of faculty’s research on election manipulation draws flak

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Ashoka University is under fire for dissociating itself from a faculty member’s research paper, which claimed electoral manipulation in favour of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. A Statement posted from the official X page on Tuesday said it does not direct or approve specific research projects by individual faculty members.

The research paper titled “Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy” by Sabyasachi Das, assistant professor of economics at Ashoka University, has fueled a debate on social media.

“This paper contributes to the discussion by documenting irregular patterns in 2019 general election in India and identifying whether they are due to electoral manipulation or precise control, i.e., incumbent party’s ability to precisely predict and affect win margins through campaigning,” the abstract of the research paper stated.

“I compile several new datasets and present evidence that is consistent with electoral manipulation in closely contested constituencies and is less supportive of the precise control hypothesis. Manipulation appears to take the form of targeted electoral discrimination against India’s largest minority group – Muslims, partly facilitated by weak monitor- ing by election observers. The results present a worrying development for the future of democracy.”

Social media activity or public activism by Ashoka faculty, students or staff in their individual capacity does not reflect the stand of the University,” reads the statement from the private University.

While the paper is yet to be peer-reviewed, several scholars and academics have commended Das’s work after it was published. American economist Paul Gertler said, “It was by far one of the most convincing pol Econ papers that I have seen recently.”

“The evidence presented does not lend itself to political attacks on a serious scholar. E.g. the discrepancy in vote tallies needs to be explained, since it can’t be wished away,” Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted.

Joyojeet Pal, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, said that faculty around the world should look at Ashoka University for “how weak institutions throw junior faculty under the bus”.

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