Fed Up With Govt’s ‘False Promises’ on Stipend Hike, IIT Madras Scholar to Contest Lok Sabha Polls

In 2018, the RSI had demanded that the government raise research stipends by at least 50 percent for scholars, who are beneficiaries of the JRF and SRF (Junior and Senior Research Fellowships).

New Delhi: After months of coaxing the government to hike research stipends, a research scholar at Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Lucknow has decided to take the plunge into politics.

Nikhil Gupta, a post-graduate alumnus of IIT Madras and national representative of the protesting group Research Scholars of India (RSI), will file his nomination as an independent candidate from South Delhi constituency on Monday. He plans to make quality education his key campaign issue.

In 2018, the RSI had demanded that the government raise research stipends by at least 50 percent for scholars, who are beneficiaries of the JRF and SRF (Junior and Senior Research Fellowships).

During last year’s protests Gupta, along with other RSI members, tried to reach out to the political class, appealing them to raise the issue of education in the Parliament. But each time he and his associates returned with promises that were never fulfilled. “Our protests have been democratic. We are demanding what is rightfully ours – the fellowship hike. In continuation of the democratic means, I will now fight this battle for education by contesting the Lok Sabha elections,” Gupta told News18.

The RSI met political figures such as Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and Samajwadi chief Akhilesh Yadav, and also tried reaching out to HRD minister Prakash Javadekar to raise the issue in the Lok Sabha, but to no avail. Fed up of “empty promises” and “bad politics” the members realised the only way to make education a political mandate is by contesting the polls. “Let there be at least one MP who speaks on education in the House. Let that person be me,” said the 26-year-old, who is currently working as a junior research scholar at the Centre of Biomedical Research in SGPGI.

Why Politics

Gupta, along with fellow scholars protested and sat for hunger strikes last year to demand a hike in research fellowships. His group was joined by research scholars from various IITs, NITs, AIIMS and other prestigious institutes. It also included ad-hoc faculties of Delhi University and UPSC/SSC candidates. The members joined hands and decided to field him as a candidate for Lok Sabha elections “to put their demands in the most solid and democratic manner.”

“We have been ignored by the Government of India and have decided to unite and raise our issue from one independent Lok Sabha seat so that we can bridge the gap between students/scholars/faculties and the government,” Gupta said.

“We, research scholars from various IITs, NITs, IISC, AIIMS and other universities, were fighting for our rights and dignity for so long. Since September 2018, we were asking for a hike and regularity in fellowship. There is non-implementation of honorarium for guest faculty, no regularisation of ad-hoc faculties, and unification of state PCS & UPSC,” reads a statement by the RSI.

The RSI has been raising the issue of fellowship hike since 2014 when it claimed it got the hike in fellowship for only the junior and senior research fellows, and not for the non-net fellows.

Protests in the Past

Research Scholars of India across the country carried out protests in October last year. Their previous statements said that after protests authorities from Department of Science and Technology informed them about conducting an inter-ministerial meeting on November 6, 2018 about the issue of fellowships.

The idea was to discuss the issue before seeking the finance ministry’s approval. Gupta had also met K Vijay Raghavan, principal scientific adviser to the central government, to raise the issue. After the meeting, Raghavan had tweeted, “The Research Scholars of India as we discussed in our meetings, the Fellowship increase in being processed by @IndiaDST. This will be completed soon, in December. @PrinSciAdvGoI (sic).”

“The November 6 meeting was expected to mechanise the hike system in a proper manner, as well the regulatory for this issue, but the content has still not been disclosed to the research scholars because of some official matter,” RSI said in a statement in 2018.

The group has demanded that there be an increase in fellowship every four years. “The government should revise the fellowship, ensure timely disbursal of fellowships to research scholars by all funding agencies, and ensure that results and certificates do not get delayed.”

After analysing the statistics of past increments in JRF and SRS fellowships the RSI concluded that there has been no increase since 2014. “We have to make education a poll issue,” Gupta said.

The hike is bound to boost the morale of research scholars and will also encourage bright and motivated post graduate students to take up research as a viable option despite lucrative jobs.