It’s a battle of wits between a politicking Trinamool’s blow-hot-blow-cold tactics and a possible international leftist network that has planned video conferencing to 100 cities and simultaneous protests in 100 different countries on 25 September.
Kolkata — “হোক কলরব (hok kalorob)” is the slogan coined by students calling for a revolution to unseat the present Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University. The movement was first led by the Students’ Federation of India, a wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), but it is increasingly witnessing participation by pupils of all affiliations. It began with protests to bring justice to a victim of molestation in the varsity campus on 28 August. The slogan translates to: “Let there be noise!”
The protesting students had first demanded removal of two members from the committee formed by the West Bengal Government — headed by Calcutta University Vice-Chancellor Suranjan Das — to inquire into the incident of molestation and representation of a retired High Court judge, human rights activists, educationists, psychiatrists and students in the committee. The protesters allege all members of the inquiry committee are known for their proximity with the State Government or the ruling party.
It was during the sit-in organised on 17 September to press for the first two demands that the VC had asked for police intervention. The police then barged into the campus deep in the night, switched all light bulbs off, and brutally lathi-charged the students and trampled many under their boots. Now the students are not ready to settle for anything less than the VC’s head.
A temporary cessation of hostilities was observed on Saturday when Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi had intervened, requesting the protesters to withdraw their agitation. The students had risen from the sit-in on that request, but it has resumed now. JU registrar Pradip Ghosh gave a call to the students to withdraw the appeal for class boycotts. He also said the VC was himself ready to talk to the students.
None of these pleas worked. One of the protesters told this correspondent it was ludicrous to propose talks when the VC is too scared to come to the campus.
The decision making body of the protesters has decided to boycott all classes until the VC is sacked. A “citizens’ convention” of students has been called on Wednesday at 12 noon. The protesters have appealed to eminent citizens of Kolkata as well as the alumni of the university to attend the meet. On Thursday the students will march to Lalbazar, the Kolkata Police headquarters, to submit to the police chief a memorandum. A video conference to connect to 100 different cities and simultaneous demonstrations in 100 different countries has also been planned. These announcements were made on behalf of the JU students by Chiranjit Ghosh.
Meanwhile, rallies of students continue in the Jadavpur area.
On the State Government’s part, there is an effort to give the standoff a new direction. On the one hand, hundreds of school-going students, mostly girls, were forced to parade yesterday, raising slogans against JU students. On the other, Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of State Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and head of the Trinamool Congress’s youth wing, has dubbed the protesting students as “clowns”, “alcoholics” and “drug addicts”.
“মদ, গাঁজা, চরস বন্ধ — তাই কী প্রতিবাদের গন্ধ? (mod, ganja, charos bandho/ tai ki protibader gandho? — Alcohol and cannabis have been banned in the campus. Is that why you are protesting?)” Abhishek had posted on a Facebook page launched by the group after the breakout of the struggle. The rival side has called it a futile attempt to belittle their ‘cause’. They also rubbished the report that they had carried out a poster campaign at VC Abhijit Chakraborty’s residence.
The total strength of the student processions the AITC wishes to bring to the streets is a whopping 20,000. When television reporters approached some of the girls in a procession yesterday, who conceded they were students of schools and not colleges, Trinamool leaders intervened promptly and pushed the journalists aside while also denying the girls were from schools. The AITC youth wing president was present in one such rally.
There were some block- and district level AITC workers in the procession, too. They walked up to Raj Bhavan and submitted a memorandum to Governor Tripathi.
Curiously, the CPI(M) is not backing the students whole-heartedly. They had intervened to change the original coinage: “এই শতকের দু’টি ভূল — CPM আর Trinamool (ei shatoker du’ti bhool/ CPM ar Trinamool — Two mistakes of this century: CPM and Trinamool).” A source in the communist party told सिर्फ़ NEWS that the ruling and the main opposition party are both apprehensive of the Bharatiya Janata Party trying to cash in on the situation. “There were some mature brains behind the initial coinage,” the source said.
The manner in which the movement is shaping up, however, suggests there may be “mature brains” at work on the protesters’ side. Facebook has witnessed a plethora of new political pages launched by both sides of the dispute. Some news television channels are comparing the imbroglio with the Shahbag Revolution in Dhaka last year. They see a separation of student politics from party politics in the unrest.
The issue has caught the imagination of students’ community across the State like wildfire. When in the faraway Nadia district, students of Rajarmath College in Chakda organised a sit-in, head of the college managing committee Gopal Ray called them “dogs”. This led to a class boycott in that remote college as well. Neither the parents nor the block development officer of the area has been able to placate the students so far. They would not agree to anything less than sacking of Ray.
Beyond the State, protest marches expressing solidarity with JU students have been observed in Delhi, Mumbai, Roorkee, Bengaluru, Guwahati and Bhubaneswar. Alumni of JU settled in different parts of the globe are at the forefront of the social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Those born in the 1980s or later — and those who feed news off the Delhi based-media’s hands — may believe this method of activism is like the Aam Aadmi Party’s, but Bengal has witnessed this kind of agitation several times over since the 1960s.
The university management is softening its stand under pressure. The FIRs that had been lodged against 36 protesting students last week have been withdrawn. Furthermore, the management has decided to foot the bills of medical treatment of students physically hurt by the police action.
The State Government also is trying reconciliatory measures. Last week Mamata Banerjee had instructed AITC youth wing leader Shankudeb Panda to visit the molestation victim’s house at Salt Lake. Yesterday the administration sent for the victim’s father at Nabanna, the State Government’s headquarters.
The ploy worked. The father not only said after emerging from Nabanna that he was satisfied by the measures taken by the government, but also participated in AITC’s counter procession where he said the students must now stop agitating. They should be concentrating on their studies, he counselled.