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West Bengal: Depoliticisation politics

EducationWorld March 13 | Education News EducationWorld

One of the major campaign promises of the Trinamool Party before it was voted to power in the summer of 2011, ending 34 years of uninterrupted rule of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM)-led Left Front government in West Bengal, was depoliticisation of academic campuses. But almost two years on, political violence has been escalating in the state’s colleges. Over the past 22 months, 642 clashes have been reported in and beyond campus premises in which 27 people have lost their lives and 926 political workers and 128 students injured. According to statistics of the State Crime Records Bureau, there are 100 violent political clashes every month — three per day — in West Bengal.

The most recent incident of student violence which shook Kolkata occurred on February 12, when a policeman on duty was killed in a clash outside Hari Mohan College (estb. 1963), an undergrad college in South Kolkata’s Garden Reach area, affiliated with the University of Calcutta. Sub-inspector Tapas Chakrobarty of the special branch, was killed during a shoot-out between Congress and Trinamool Congress Party workers. The groups clashed over filing of nomination papers for student elections.

Although the ruling TMC has denied involvement of its cadres, the brutal murder of SI Chakrobarty has once again highlighted the need to implement the Lyngdoh Committee’s 2006 report on insulating student union elections from party politics. The report was submitted to the HRD ministry in May 2006 but is yet to be implemented in West Bengal, despite the Supreme Court’s endorsement.

The delay was of the CPM which led the Left Front government between 2006-11, and for whom campus infiltration and domination by party cadres is an article of faith. After TMC was voted to power two years ago, the West Bengal Higher Education Council (WBHEC) constituted a seven-member committee chaired by Calcutta University vice chancellor Suranjan Das to frame rules and regulations for the conduct of college union elections, based on the recommendations of the Lyngdoh report.

The committee duly submitted its recommendations to WBHEC more than three months ago. Among the recommendations of the Das Committee: college elections should not be fought on political party symbols, student unions to be renamed student councils and their presidents to be nominated by the senior-most teacher of the college and vice presidents by teachers’ councils. However, the Das Committee draft provides for election of the general secretary, assistant general secretary and five other secretaries to preside over student activities such as culture, drama, sports, etc.

“We agree that political symbols, posters or flags shouldn’t be visible on campuses and that politicians should not be seen inside or within certain limits of the college on election day. But, completely apolitical students’ unions are impossible while politically connected teachers’ unions continue to function,” comments Sugato Marjit, chairman of WBHEC.

However, several colleges in West Bengal have been able to depoliticise student union elections. The Bengal Engineering and Science University (Besu, estb. 1856), which was once one of the state’s most volatile campuses, has successfully depoliticised its student elections. Besides Besu, several other colleges including IIT-Kharagpur, IIM-Calcutta, St. Xavier’s College and Loreto College conduct student elections without interference from political parties.

But although most academics are in favour of banishing party politics from student elections, Sukanta Bhattacharya, associate professor of economics at the University of Calcutta, is a dissenting voice. “College and university students need to be ideologically and politically aware to bring changes in politics and society. Instead of banning politics which is an essential part of higher education and treating enfranchised adults like children, what’s needed is the enforcement of law and order on campuses,” he says.

Inevitably student unions backed by the CPM and Left Front parties which are solidly entrenched in most colleges and universities believe the Das Committee’s report is a conspiracy to disband non-TMC student unions. According to Dibyajyoti Sinha, an economics postgrad student of Jadavpur University (JU) and the general secretary nominee of the CPM-affiliated Forum for Arts students, the recommendations of the Lyngdoh and Das committees are against the basic structure of the Constitution. “Politics in JU is deep-rooted. With faculty and students engaged in the study of economics, political science, sociology, etc vehemently against these undemocratic proposals, we are planning to protest on a huge scale very soon,” warns Sinha.

Clearly peace and quiet on West Bengal’s highly politicised campuses is an unlikely prospect in the near future.

Baishali Mukherjee (Kolkata)

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