Campus agitations in Bengal a sign of rising movement, feel stakeholders
The heckling of Union minister Babul Supriyo by Left-backed students’ union activists inside Jadavpur University in Kolkata on September 19 - an incident that forced governor Jagdeep Dhankhar to rush to the campus and rescue Supriyo - and an agitation by students of Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan on Wednesday over a lecture in which BJP Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta was gheraoed after he spoke on Citizenship (Amendment) Act, have much in common.
Politicians, student leaders and experts feel that both incidents, when seen against the backdrop of Sunday’s violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, indicate that the student politics in Bengal is going through a churning process. The pace of this churning has apparently gained speed by the Trinamool Congress government’s October 2019 decision to allow student union election in colleges and universities after putting it on hold for two years.
The Higher Education Department in mid-October last year sent a letter to the vice-chancellors of four universities - Jadavpur University, Presidency University, Rabindra Bharati University and Diamond Harbour Women’s University - to conduct student union elections. At Presidency, the Students Federation of India, the student arm of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) won the elections. Polls are likely to be held in Jadavpur soon.
“The agitation at Visva-Bharati took place because vice chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty is trying to let the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) form a base. In 34 years of Left rule, we never tried to hold any political programme at Tagore’s Visva-Bharati,” said CPI(M) politburo member Md Salim. “Students across India are rising against fee hike and loss of employment opportunities. The agitations are augmented by this anger and frustration of the young generation,” Salim added.
Debjit Sarkar, West Bengal BJP’s Yuva Morcha president, feels that the Marxists have lost relevance at the hustings and hence trying to make a comeback by using the campus unrest.
“TMC chief Mamata Banerjee is tacitly helping the Left in this because she was scared to see Left votes shifting to the BJP in millions during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and local elections. She feels that if this trend can be reversed in some way her party may have better chances in the coming civic and assembly polls in Bengal,” said Sarkar.
“Banerjee is shedding tears for JNU’s SFI union general secretary Aishi Ghosh but nobody said a word when students in some of Bengal’s schools were stopped from holding Saraswati Puja last year,” said Sarkar.
“The fact that the state government has allowed students’ union elections to be held can be one of the reasons behind these incidents but it is not the sole one. There is an unrest among youths across the nation because of they feel that the Centre should address issues that will secure their future. Students of engineering and science streams are scared by the state of the industry,” said Kolkata-based political science professor Udayan Bandopadhyay.
“And, it will not be entirely correct to link politics to this unrest. My daughter and all her friends, who study in an institution where there is no political union, took part in a march in protest against the JNU incident,” Bandopadhyay added.
SFI national general secretary Mayukh Biswas claims that the students are preparing for a movement against what they see as the BJP’s effort to “apoliticise student politics” and the incidents in Bengal are not isolated cases.
“Banerjee also tried to muffle students in Bengal and dissolved college unions. Her party workers vandalized Presidency College in April 2013. What you see now is a festival of resistance,” said Biswas.
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