When Trinamool Congress head Mamata Banerjee took over as West Bengal’s chief minister in 2012, the reigning theme was ‘poriborton’ (change). But two years down the line, Banerjee can hardly be called an agent of change. Instead, the chief minister is extremely old school: The CM seems to think she is above reproach and no one can question her governance style or her administrative capabilities. Unfortunately, she is at her paranoid best when it comes to issues of violence against women: any rape case, she feels, is an opposition plan to malign her government. Her party leaders regularly make thoughtless comments (remember Tapas Pal and Deepak Haldar?) on sexual violence against women but nothing, absolutely nothing, seems to move Banerjee. All is fair in love, war and politics - seems to be her motto.
Two incidents could singe Banerjee and Trinamool irreparably. One is the Saradha chit fund scam and second, the on-going protests in Jadavpur University, a premier centre of academic excellence that was set up in 1955. The protests, now known as the ‘Hok Kolorob Movement’ (Let there be noise), began on September 17 when university authorities called the police to break up a peaceful demonstration of students who were demanding an investigation into an alleged molestation inside the JU campus.
According to the students, the police entered the campus at around 8pm on September 16, attempting to broker peace between the students and the vice-chancellor. They failed to do so and left the campus but re-entered around 2am on September 17. There were several unidentified men among the police, claim students. While they allege that these men were Trinamool Congress members, the police claim that they were officials in plainclothes. The police-“Trinamool Congress cadre” beat up the students brutally and even some female students were sexually assaulted by the men. Thirty-five students were arrested.
This police action led to protests in Kolkata and across India. At present, no classes are being held in JU, exams have been deferred and the students have three demands: sacking of the VC, probe into the molestation case and also an inquiry into the police brutality.
For Banerjee, of course, all this is opposition propaganda to dethrone her. Even if one accepts her allegations, I think, there was ample time and opportunity to defuse this situation: all the government had to do was sanction a time-bound and impartial inquiry into the molestation incident.
Instead, an arrogant Banerjee claimed that the September 17 incident was a small one and “the media was giving it unnecessary footage in an effort to tarnish Bengal’s image”. Her equally arrogant education minister added fuel to the fire, saying that students who do not like the VC can leave the university and join somewhere else!
However, Trinamool’s stance (shoot the messenger) has cut no ice. The students have deftly used the social media to put across their point. Protests have been planned across the world on September 25 and Banerjee and her team can now only blame themselves for the fiasco.
And yes, how can one forget Banerjee’s nephew and Trinamool Congress’ youth wing president Abhishek Banerjee’s Facebook post? The young man, ostensibly the GenNext of Trinamool, has stirred a row by mocking the protesting students. He said in his post, "The students are agitating as there has been a crackdown against things like booze, weed and charas on the JU campus". It seems insensitivity and paranoia run deep in the party.
The Jadavpur protests is increasingly looking like the protests that happened in Delhi and in other parts of the country and the world against the horrific December 16, 2012, gang-rape in the Capital. Like in the post December 16 protests, the general public has come out against the state highhandedness and in support of the victim(s). The gang-rape almost demolished India’s image worldwide and eventually the party that was in power; this JU protest could end up doing the same to West Bengal and the Trinamool Congress.