India has sacked the head of its social science council because he invited Pakistani intellectuals to a seminar on India-Pakistan relations on the eve of last week's summit between prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani president Pravez Musharraf.
M. L. Sondhi, chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, was fired for "mismanaging" the institution, but he claims he is a victim of a political conspiracy.
He said he would challenge his dismissal in court. "At the ICSSR we tried to start a dialogue on contemporary issues and the seminar was a part of that effort. But there are hardliners in the government who are opposed to a debate and they were behind my dismissal."
He said education minister Murali Manohar Joshi was a proponent of Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) and one of those who "don't want Vajpayee to pursue tolerant policies".
Professor Sondhi also said he had antagonised the Hindutva lobby by introducing a research programme on gender studies and human rights. "I wanted to open a dialogue between the left and the right but these people don't want it," he said.
His dismissal came soon after the government issued guidelines to universities requiring them to seek clearance before inviting foreign scholars to seminars and conferences. The guidelines have been widely denounced as an attempt to gag academia.
University bodies, cutting across party lines, have protested, while opposition parties plan to raise the issue in parliament.