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Tuesday, Dec 10, 2019

Opinion | Saffron camp sees a window of opportunity in JU ruckus, does Mamata Banerjee?

JU is now actually a cause for concern among elders in the echelons of power because the BJP, with 18 out of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats, has set its eyes on the 2021 assembly elections

india Updated: Sep 24, 2019 10:19 IST
Supporters of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) get violent during a protest against the assault on Union Minister Babul Supriyo in Jadavpur University, at Jodhpur Park, in Kolkata, on Monday, September 23, 2019.
Supporters of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) get violent during a protest against the assault on Union Minister Babul Supriyo in Jadavpur University, at Jodhpur Park, in Kolkata, on Monday, September 23, 2019.(Samir Jana/HT Photo)
         

The posh south Kolkata neighbourhood of Jodhpur Park, around 600 metres from the sprawling Jadavpur University (JU) campus, witnessed something on Monday afternoon that the city never saw before.

Hundreds of activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student’s front of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), clashed with policemen for blocking their path with eight feet high steel barricades.

They tried in vain to take their procession to JU where students belonging to Left unions were geared up to take out a counter procession. Tension rose and brickbats flew but the policemen managed to avert a face-off.

This happened precisely four days after Union minister of state Babul Supriyo and fashion designer-turned-politician Agnimitra Paul were allegedly heckled and assaulted by Left students’ union activists inside the campus where ABVP, a minuscule force in JU till now, had invited the two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders to a programme. Since that incident on September 19, JU, one of the top 10 universities in the country, has been in the news.

The alleged assault, West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar’s sudden visit to rescue Supriyo, ransacking of a Left union office by ABVP activists, exchange of rhetoric between BJP and Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders and posts by netizens have all made JU the most talked about subject in the state.

Although the subject involves students, JU is now actually a cause for concern among elders in the echelons of power because the BJP, with 18 out of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats, has set its eyes on the 2021 assembly elections. In the recent Lok Sabha polls, the number of first-time voters in West Bengal stood at 2.01 million, the highest in India. And, most of them were students.

To the saffron camp, even the slightest ascent of the ABVP in JU will have more significance than winning a students’ union election in any of the big colleges in West Bengal’s districts. Politically, JU and Presidency University in Kolkata are citadels of Left ideology.

To the apparatchiks of non-Left Bengal politics, these iconic institutions mean exactly what Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University means to their counterparts in the rest of India.

The trouble at JU has definitely helped the ABVP which has been trying hard to make its presence felt in Bengal but could not focus on an issue that was exclusively its own.

The alleged assault on Babul Supriyo and the manner in which he led a counter-attack on social media has apparently given ABVP a playing field at JU that was otherwise completely out of bounds to the saffron camp.

The BJP’s state president Dilip Ghosh made his intentions very clear when he said after the incident that ABVP activists did the right thing by ransacking the Left union office.

“It was the right thing to do. Just as we demolished the terror camps in Pakistan in a surgical strike, these cradles of anti-nationals should be demolished… We know how to break the arms that attacked Babul Supriyo,” Ghosh said at a press conference, sending a loud message to the ABVP.

He even gave a report to Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, when the latter visited West Bengal during the weekend.

In the midst of all this, sections of the media and netizens are having a field day with video clips of the alleged assault and claims and counterclaims made by BJP leaders and members of the Left students’ union.

Video footages, some showing Babul Supriyo telling the students “Don’t hit me” while some showing him saying “You cannot make me leave the campus” are being circulated with different interpretations by people from opposing camps.

Debanjan Ballav Chatterjee, who became a household name for pulling a Union minister’s hair and was thought to be from JU later turned out to be a student of Sanskrit College and University in central Kolkata.

His mother, a cancer patient, was seen pleading for his pardon in a well-circulated video clip while his father was seen telling a Bengali TV channel that he was grateful to Supriyo for not filing a police complaint. But the youth now says that he is not repentant and his parents, who live in Burdwan district, are facing threats from the BJP.

JU’s Arts Faculty Students’ Union has filed a police complaint against Babul Supriyo, accusing him of misconduct. It has also lodged a complaint of assault and vandalism against ABVP members.

Agnimitra Paul has lodged a complaint of assault and molestation against JU students. Interestingly, no arrest has been made so far and the Kolkata Police are completely silent.

Something is surely brewing on and off a campus that has produced some of the country’s best scholars and engineers. The big question is whether TMC chief Mamata Banerjee will benefit from whatever happens in the coming days after her government has been accused by the BJP of gross inaction on September 19.