Four months after a students’ agitation broke out at Jadavpur University (JU) in Calcutta, peace returned to the campus on Monday thanks to an unexpected visit. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee reached the university and communicated to the students that vice-chancellor Abhijit Chakrabarti has expressed his “desire to resign”. Fifteen JU students were on a hunger strike since January 5, demanding the V-C’s resignation for ordering a police crackdown on students while they were agitating on campus on September 17, 2014, after a student was molested on August 28.
That the resignation was not the V-C’s decision but a result of Banerjee’s own political calculations is pretty clear. He left the JU campus kicking and screaming “anarchy”. In interviews, Chakrabarti said his resignation was “a mark of protest against anarchism” and that he stepped down “for the sake of academic atmosphere of the campus”. The CM too said “there must be a conducive environment for education”. This is quite a climb down because on September 19 last year, she said the police crackdown, which sparked the protests, was a “small incident” and that the media was giving it unnecessary footage to “tarnish Bengal’s image”, and refused to intervene. This comment only added fuel to the fire. What the CM termed as a “small incident” included a baton charge on a peaceful demonstration and molestation of female students by police officers, and several men who were not in uniform. Students alleged that these were Trinamool Congress cadre.
In the end, however, everyone is a loser. While students have missed classes for no fault of theirs, Chakrabarti lost his job for not having the courage to accept that the students had a just cause that need tackling with compassion and on time.
But the biggest loser is the CM herself. It would be not wrong to say that she was forced to douse the fire because there are too many of them for her to handle at the moment, the main being the Saradha chit fund scam which has dented her image quite a bit.
Two other reasons could have forced her hand: One, on January 10, Governor KN Tripathi had ‘cautioned’ the V-C for the delay in taking action in the molestation case and she realised that there was no room left for her to manoeuvre; and second, in the recent months, many institutions have been marred by disturbing events and these have spoiled her image among the youth. A day before the recent JU convocation, students of the Visva Bharati University, in Santiniketan gheraoed their vice-chancellor, forcing Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid to cut short his visit to the university. Then there were clashes in Calcutta University, weeks before college elections were to be held. Banerjee, more than anyone else, knows that these incidents could prove to be costly in the long run considering that a national party is waiting in the wings.