Lal salaam land

He?s a university topper but look what the Left has made of him at JNU: a cliche king, reports Sutirtho Patranobis.

india Updated: Dec 28, 2006 02:55 IST

Subhonil Chowdhury’s unkempt hostel room in JNU smells of unwashed clothes and wrinkle-free ideology. Its grey walls are plastered with posters of Castro, Marx and Safdar Hashmi. Marquez and Marx share the floor with Tagore and Sunil Ganguly, the great Bengali writer; Sartre and Maugham have squeezed in too. A laptop on the single bed seems to have replaced the humble PC in the corner. Led Zepp and Floyd, Renoir and Ray peep from corners.

“Mr VC, do not try to tamper with OBC reservations ... 27 per cent it is,” ‘Subho’ tells a friend on his cellphone, dictating the crux of a letter that the Students Federation of India (SFI), the student wing of the CPI(M), is writing to JNU authorities. As the SFI’s JNU unit secretary, Subho, with his band of followers, was in the forefront of the pro-reservation campaign that unequally split JNU when Arjun Singh announced reservation for OBCs.

“The campus was divided on the issue of reservation but we defeated those factions in the election. There’s no way we would allow the authorities here not to implement reservation,’’ says Subho passionately.

An SFI member for nine years, Subho believes in the SFI slogan “study and struggle”. Study, of course, was never a struggle for him. He was a topper in economics at Presidency College, Kolkata, was a Calcutta University rank holder, topped his class in JNU and is now finishing his Phd on “Technological Progress and Persistence of Labour Reserve in Developing Countries’, under the guidance of eminent professor Prabhat Patnaik.

His leftist leanings were picked up in his modest growing-up years in Tollygunge, Kolkata, a CPI(M) bastion. But his real foray into politics began when he hit JNU some six years ago.

“For the first time I came face-to-face with the communal and caste politics that dominates north India. The politics here was different from Cal in its divisions on communal and caste lines. The ABVP was powerful in JNU. But we defeated them several times,” he says. What he liked about JNU was the culture of debates and public meetings.

Is politics then Subho’s choice of career? If so, why? Subho is reluctant to answer clearly. After graduating, Subho, now in his mid-20s, had a good offer from the Bangalore-based Indian Statistical Institute.

“But I was attracted to the political milieu of JNU. This was the university where Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury had initiated the CPI(M)’s students’ movement. They had held posts, rallied students and left a mark. I do not regret the decision to opt for JNU. After six years here, I have matured politically,” he says.

Subho is aware that there is a world outside the cosy comfort of a tree-lined walk to Ganga Hostel dhaba and the romance of hearing Karat speak of Cuba, Chavez and Left resurrection late at night, huddled with friends in the packed auditorium. But he does not know what he’ll do in that world yet.

“I am out of JNU next year. Whatever happens, I am determined to stay involved in politics and academics. Every time there is a need to take a stand on an issue, I hope to be there with my friends and colleagues,” he says.

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First Published: Dec 28, 2006 02:55 IST