Gandhi admirer crushed

March 1, 1996

In an episode straight out of one of Malcolm Bradbury's campus satires, a senior faculty member of New Delhi's elite Jawaharlal Nehru University is in trouble for writing love letters to the teenage daughter of India's former prime minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi, and granddaughter of Indira Gandhi.

Police said that S. S. Maitra, an assistant professor in the centre for biotechnology, has written nearly a dozen letters to Priyanka Gandhi, proposing to her and asking for a date. While no one took exception to his "right" to have a crush on a VIP's daughter, police are surprised that despite high security at the Gandhis' official residence, the lovelorn academic managed to deliver a few letters personally.

Professor Maitra, who was in England recently, spent several hours at Heathrow to meet Ms Gandhi who was in transit on her way to the United States.

Since the Gandhi family is on the hit-list of two groups of terrorists - Tamil separatists from Sri Lanka who killed Rajiv Gandhi and Sikh terrorist from Punjab who assassinated Indira Gandhi - police are not taking any chances.

But when they picked up Professor Maitra for questioning, his colleagues and students rushed to his defence, saying that the police entered the campus without the university administration's permission. They also alleged that he was "harassed" by the police. In a rare show of unity, teachers' and students' associations organised a day's strike to protest police "highhandedness".

Police commissioner Nikhil Kumar has set up an inquiry. Professor Maitra has admitted writing to Ms Gandhi, but said he did so in a state of mental depression.

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