Allegations abound about a London School of Economics professor known to Rahul Gandhi orchestrating the campaign against the student.
NEW DELHI: A 22-year-old Indian student was barred from the Students’ Union election in the London School of Economics (LSE) in the UK after an “orchestrated” and “deliberate” campaign smearing his Hindu and Indian identity.
Karan Kataria was contesting the Students’ Union election and was running a high-voltage campaign, which was drawing a lot of international as well as Indian students in his favour, claimed Karan and his peers. However, according to Karan, a smear campaign against him was launched in a “pre-planned” manner on the last day of voting, i.e on 24 March, accusing him of being “Islamophobic”, “homophobic”, “far-right”, “fascist” and a part of “Islamophobic organisations in India”, referring to the RSS.
“Several WhatsApp messages started to be forwarded to our student groups at around 11 am on 24 March and that was the last day of voting. These messages targeted Karan and his Indian, Hindu identity. They termed him as Islamophobic, fascist, homophobic. A photo of Karan with his friend that had the picture of Bharat Mata and RSS founders in the background was being shared and he was being termed as someone who comes from a country that is fascist. And most of these people sharing and reacting to those messages were Indian. The messages were shared in such a way that it seemed it was all well planned,” Tejashwini, a post graduate student from LSE, told The Sunday Guardian over phone.
The Sunday Guardian also went through some of the WhatsApp chats that were allegedly being forwarded against Karan Kataria to discredit him in the election. One of the WhatsApp messages reads, “Urgent Appeal: Karan Kataria, LSESU candidate for General Secretary, has links to the Indian far-right fascist organisation. He is likely a member of the far-right queerphobic and Islamophobic organisation in India. His book was also released by RSS leader J. Nandkumar and published by Indus scrolls which publishes hateful contents against minorities…”
Following the social media campaign against Karan, he was debarred and disqualified from the Students’ Union election on grounds that he had violated the election rules and norms set by the LSE election body.
However, speaking to The Sunday Guardian from UK, Karan said, “Within a few hours of these messages on WhatsApp, hundreds of complaints against me were filed with the election body and I was debarred from the election and a case was made that I have coerced students to vote for me. On day one, they said I coerced seven students, later they changed it to two students and in the end, they dropped the coercion charge against me as they could not find any evidence and said that I was within two metres of distance from where the voting was taking place. This was done without even hearing my side of the story. This is undemocratic and a gross violation of the principle of natural justice.”
Karan further said that he is being targeted for his national and religious identity. “I am a victim of a vicious and malicious campaign for my identity and nationality. I still say that I am a proud Hindu and a proud Indian.”
Karan is a first-time graduate from his farmer family belonging to Gurgaon in Haryana. He is pursuing his Masters in Law from the LSE and according to him he wanted to work for the student community and fulfil the dreams of lakhs of students who come to pursue their education in the university.
According to sources, the smear campaign was launched allegedly by a group of “left-liberal” students led by Professor Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE. Sources from LSE, who did not want to come on record, said that Dr Banerjee and her group of students were behind the campaign to dislodge Karan and his group because she did not want the students’ union body of the college to have someone like Karan who belongs to the Hindu community and represents the “New India”.
This academic, Dr Mukulika Banerjee, is allegedly close to Rahul Gandhi and is believed to have hosted Rahul Gandhi in London on some occasions. Dr Banerjee has also hosted Rahul Gandhi on the LSE campus. Dr Banerjee also flew down to India in January to participate in Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in January this year and had posted photographs of the yatra on her Twitter account.
Many on campus also alleged that Dr Mukulika Banerjee has often carried out smear campaigns against students who have not identified with her ideology and those belonging to the right-wing ideology are often in her target window. “She has for long been carrying out an anti-India and anti-Hindu campaign in the UK. She has also for quite some time carried out a ‘Muslims under attack in India’ campaign in the UK. She is one of the main persons believed to be involved in the campaign against Karan’s election. In the past, she is believed to have influenced student body elections and has a strong and influential position within the LSE administration,” a student from LSE told this correspondent on the condition of anonymity.
Dr Mukulika Banerjee is also a part of the “Left-Liberal” UK-based think-tank, The Chatham House, which has hosted Rahul Gandhi to deliver his speeches on more than one occasion. It was Rahul Gandhi’s conversation in Chatham House that drew controversy over his alleged remark on India’s foreign policy. The Chatham House also recently put out a tweet after Gandhi was convicted by a Surat court, saying, “Rahul Gandhi’s prison sentence could be a unifying force for India’s Opposition parties ahead of the 2024 general election.”
Dr Mukulika Banerjee is an assistant professor with the LSE’s anthropology department. She joined LSE in 2009 and has been working with the institution since then. Before she joined LSE, she had been teaching with the University College London from 1996 to 2009. Dr Banerjee did her D.Phil in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford in 1994, and her Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship was from the Wolfson College, University of Oxford, 1994-96.
Before she moved to London, she had done her graduation from Lady Shri Ram College of Delhi University and then her Masters and M.Phil. in Sociology and Anthropology from Delhi School of Economics.
When contacted for a reaction to the allegations, Dr Mukulika Banerjee told The Sunday Guardian, “I have nothing to do with the recently conducted LSE students’ union election in formal or informal capacity. Students’ Union business is a students’ affair and academic faculty has nothing to do with it. The WhatsApp messages attributed to me are completely fake. I am a believing and practicing Hindu and nothing can be more ridiculous than accusing me of being anti-Hindu.”
The smear campaign against Karan has also angered the Indian National Students’ Association (UK), an umbrella body that represents all Indian students studying in the UK. They have written a letter to the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Students, drawing their attention to how “undemocratically” Karan Kataria was debarred from the election and have urged them to take necessary action to ensure that Indian students are treated with dignity in the UK.
The Indian National Students Association (UK) is also likely to write to the LSE to investigate the role of Dr Mukulika Banerjee in the entire incident. Amit Tiwari, president of the Indian National Students Association (UK), told The Sunday Guardian, “It is extremely sad to see that people who are here to impart education and teach values to students are getting themselves involved in influencing elections. This particular professor is notorious for her meddling with India’s internal affairs. A lot of students have been complaining for the last 10 years about her anti-India tirade. She probably did not like the fact that this young kid would be representing the idea of a new and strong India, the idea of a developed, positive and growth-oriented India and, therefore, was likely involved in this entire campaign. She can of course have her own political views and ideology, but to meddle with students’ union elections allegedly with her views is wrong.”
Commenting on the allegations of bullying and harassment, a spokesperson from LSE told The Sunday Guardian, “LSE is committed to a working and learning environment where people can achieve their full potential free of all types of harassment and violence. Any student who has experienced or witnessed violence or harassment is strongly encouraged to get in touch using one of our many channels, such as via a trained Safe Contact for information and support, or through our dedicated online portal Report it Stop it.”