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War Against Democracy: Designs to Ban Politics in Bengal Campuses

Ritabrata Banerjee

The Principal of a college dragged and made to move around the whole campus. He was greeted with abusive words and was beaten up amidst roars of "Vande mataram". This horrible picture was seen by entire Bengal as television channels presented "live and exclusive" coverage of Trinamool Chatra Parishad supporters bashing the Principal inside the College campus.

With flags of 'Advancement of Learning, Unified Life and Patriotism' (motto of Trinamool Chatra Parishad) the attackers were seen to ransack the college. After beating up the Principal and destroying the College properties they left the campus echoing slogans for the supreme leader of 'maa-mati-manush'.

The entire state shocked at this terrible incident had to wait for more shocks, which came from the Chief Minister. She termed the entire incident to be of 'little' significance and importance. She even went on to the extent of defending the attackers to be 'kids' and went even further in reminding the people that the kids must be given a chance of rectification. The attacked, beaten up, insulted, humiliated Principal was termed to be a partial administrator by the CM. The incident of beating teachers thus was justified by the administrative head of the state herself.

The 'kids' were seen through television channels. It was not only tough but almost impossible to recognise them as kids. At best some of them can easily be termed as 'guardians'. The entire incident took place under the leadership of 58 year old 'kid' Tilak Chowdhury who happened to be the Working President of Trinamool Congress of that very district. He was assisted by Priyabrata Dubey; district President of the Trinamool Chatra Parishad. The others involved in the incident were none from the campus. In reality these anti-social elements had no right to enter the campuses in the last three and a half decades. The Left Front Governments under Comrade Jyoti Basu and Comrade Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had created an environment in the state where the campus belonged to people associated with academics. The situation has changed entirely with the change of political guards in the state. The campuses are now easily accessible to the people who don't have a direct connection with teaching and learning.

The entire incident took place in front of the Police who preferred to play the role of a silent spectator. But it's difficult to put the entire blame on them. Particularly after the incident of Bhowanipur Police Station the police along with the common people of the state know very well that all sorts of criminal activity will be legalised if somebody carries a TMC flag. The Bhowanipur Police Station incident bears testimony to the fact that the Chief Minister had gone to the Police Station herself in order to see that some miscreants belonging to her 'control' are released. In fact before the assembly elections the then Rail Minister Mamata Banerjee has said that it is very well known to her how to control miscreants. The incident of Bhowanipur justified her pre assembly speech.

Raigunj is the advertisement of 'change'. Not only Raigunj there are many more examples to suffice. All elements to bring back the horrific days of the seventies in the education sector are in the air. Along with Raigunj, incidents at Ashoknagar, Guma, Jadavpur, and Rampurhat are there. In all these places TMC miscreants attacked the head of Schools and Colleges. In order to neutralise the incidents another incident of SFI supporters attacking a Principal at Majdia College, Nadia was manufactured. The 58 year old kids of Raigunj were arrested under bailable sections whereas the 17-18-19 year old SFI activists were booked under non-bailable sections and were sent to 14 days jail custody. A Government committed to establish democracy is keeping evidences of 'impartial' administrative measures indeed!!!

The Chief Minister is not alone defending the miscreants. She is assisted by her Ministers also. Ranging from the 'dramatist' Education Minister to the PWD minister everyone is coming up with their versions of defending the elements who have been seen to beat teachers in public. The Education Minister who is also a teacher of a college in spite of criticising the shameless incidents of beating teachers mocked at the attacked teachers and said that they are acting like television stars in order to get attention!!! Perhaps it's not wise enough to expect more from a person who is known for his dramatic skills.

Before the Bengal assembly elections a section of the media had given birth to a word called 'dalatantra' (party-favouritism) in order to assist Mamata Banerjees campaign against the Left Front Government. The eight months of change has shown what's the actual meaning of this word. Mamata Banerjee has not given her habits. As a Rail Minister she had created a record of constituting numerous committees with the people at their heads who supported her publicly. The practice continues with Miss Banerjee assuming the office of the Bengal Chief Minister. Bengal line of the Railways is laid in the state as sixty odd committees; a number of them for the Education sector of the state have been already formed. The incidents happening in the education sector of the state are creating a new glossary where being elected is termed as 'dalatantra' whereas getting nominated is termed as 'democracy'. Within a very short span of time all efforts to crush the democratic structure of the education system have been organised.

On one side the Government have introduced the Ordinance in the education sector meant for curbing democracy in the colleges and the universities and on the other hand elected student unions are being attacked and captured. Throughout the country the democratic rights of the student community is not ensured. Student unions elections are organised only in a few states and central universities. The states where the Left has been in power has always been on the forefront in ensuring the democratic rights of the students' community. The 34 years of Left Front rule in West Bengal was a period where not only the democratic rights of the student's community was established but also the democratic rights of all people associated with academics were guaranteed.

There was a fixed calendar for the polls to the student unions of colleges and universities and as soon as scheduled dates appeared on the calendar the students of the Bengal campuses exercised their democratic rights to elect their representatives.

There is a change of situation with the so-called 'change'. Till date 96 elected student unions have been captured by might. Democracy has obviously not been the tool in capturing the campuses. With Mamata Banerjee assuming office as Chief Minister hooligans in different parts of Bengal started attacking the campuses. The justifications of capturing the campuses were very simple. As 35 lakhs more people have voted in favour of TMC than the Left there was no right for the SFI to run the elected unions. Throughout Bengal starting from the mountains to the Sea College and university unions faced unprecedented attacks and was subsequently captured. The police was silent as expected. 28 college campuses were ransacked. 80 SFI activists were seriously injured and hospitalised. SFI supporters are not being allowed to go to the campuses, sit for their examinations. The peaceful environment of learning and teaching has been completely disrupted. The recent addition to this phenomenon is teacher bashing. The horrible picture of the education sector is seen by everybody save the Chief Minister and her band wagon media. The Chief Minister is of the opinion that binocular is necessary to see terror in the state. The 'dramatist' Education Minister is even a step forward. Whenever told about the violence in the campuses he is showing his astonishment and uttering some mandatory words to look into the matter. It seems he is continuing to act in a drama according to the specified script.

The script was ready. The script to curb democracy. The Government is basically utilising the opportunity. After assuming office Trinamool Congress Government s Ordinance regarding Colleges and Universities are very clear. It says that the people who will be in the Governing Body of the University will not be 'elected'. The members either will be nominated or will be ex officio. The reasons furnished by the Education Minister behind cancellation of the election process are 'political'. He believes that if people will be elected there will be politics behind it!!! He is also clear that the Government can't allow anybody to be in the decision making process who has a political background. The Ordinance categorically says that if the Vice Chancellor has a political identity or if it is revealed the Government has the right to sack him or her.

In a nutshell the war against Democracy is announced. The 'dramatist' Education Minister is loud and clear- campuses must be free from Politics. The same echoing voice can be heard now from different spheres. As the Principal bashing continues in the Bengal campuses under the stewardship of TMCP people ranging from television anchors to ex Vice Chancellors, singers to painters, half intellectual to half minister have started blaming politics to be the sole culprit for such incidents. Even columns have started appearing in leading newspapers urging the State Government to immediately stop the student union elections in the campuses. This is not at all new. The issue of student politics has recurred repeatedly in discussions on the education policy of our country. The right of students to have students' unions has always been upheld on principle by the State. However, with the onset of the neoliberal era, the approach towards student politics has taken a turn for the worse as exemplified by the Birla Ambani Report (2000) and the proposed Model Act for Universities during the tenure of the BJP-led NDA Government. These initiatives viewed students' unions as an impediment in the path of implementing the privatization and commercialization agenda, and took refuge in the argument of preserving the academic ethos of educational institutions. At that point of time Mamata Banerjees Trinamool Congress was a part of the NDA coalition and had supported such undemocratic moves. Now in the new era of 'change' in Bengal the Government is appointing 'Mentors' from Harvard who will usher in change of the education system. These Mentors are also firm believers in the post-modern theory of 'Campus without Politics'.

The politics of these Mentors is the politics of the market. Politics of protest is a hindrance to the designs of the market. That's why it is very necessary for people committed to market forces to put a check on the political activities. In order to drive home the point politics is being targeted. In order to establish a logical conclusion to the neo liberal designs violence is orchestrated in the campuses so that intense hatred against politics can be worked out. Whatever the claims of the Government may be the Government has to look upon the interest of the market forces that helped them before the assembly elections. In the education sector it is already carried out in a fine manner. Let us look into two decisions of the new Government. In order to appease the private engineering college managements the admission criterions are relaxed and tuition fees have been doubled.

Almost every day the Chief Minister and her team are declaring that no work can be completed, as the previous Left Front Government left no money. There is no dearth of money for decorating the rooms of the Ministers or for increasing their salaries by manifold. The declarations are made in order to pave the ground for private initiatives.

The highest impediment for the commercialisation and privatisation of education is the organised student movement in the campuses. The acts of the Government and the Education Minister have automatically given rise to numerous questions among students in the campuses. The campuses are discussing that the academic qualification of the researchers who have lost their right to be elected according to the ordinance is none less than the 'dramatist', 'professor' Education Minister. The campuses are even discussing that it is the democratic process, which have elected the Education Minister as a MLA and by virtue of his party gaining power he has been able to sit in the chair of the Education Minister.

The Government started telling that what will be the role of a sweeper in deciding the Vice Chancellor of a university. Actually they came up with such reasons when questions about not involving students and non-teaching staffs in the decision making process of the Universities which was guaranteed in the Left Front period rose. The campuses are discussing that the Senate and Syndicate not only decided about the appointment of Vice Chancellors. Starting from the promotion of sweepers to the making of syllabus of the students everything used to be decided in the Senate and the Syndicate- the highest democratic decision making structures of Universities during the Left rule. The campuses are also discussing that a sweeper has his right of choosing a Vice Chancellor by virtue of the same right through which innumerable sweepers and down trodden toiling people elected candidates of Trinamool Congress in the last Assembly elections.

To be precise, behind the campaign to eliminate Politics from the education system there is an elitist design to crush the democratic fabrication established during the last 34 years.

The students and the non-teachings were being attacked earlier. Now even teacher bashing is a regular phenomenon.

10th December, 2011    -     Trinamool outsiders attack the Head Master of Ashoknagar Boys Secondary School.

17th December, 2011    -     Trinamool Congress activist slaps the Headmaster of Jadavpur Vidyapith in the precense
                                                           of local Trinamool Congress Councillor.

29th December, 2011  -     Trinamool gundas attack the Headmaster of Guma Rabindra Vidyapith.

5th January, 2012        -     58 year old 'kid' leads the attack on the Principal of Raigunj University College.

11th January, 2012       -     Raigunj is repeated by TMCP in Rampurhat College.

These above mentioned days are definitely black days in the history of the state. The black days in the education sector of the state though are not new. The black days of the seventies shamefully records the killing of Vice Chancellor of Jadavpur University Gopal Sen within the campus. There were instances where Headmaster of MAMC School, Durgapur, Bimal Dasgupta being burnt alive in the crime of protesting against unfair means adopted at examination hall by leaders of Chatra Parishad (NSUI). Teachers like Satyen Chakraborty, Santosh Bhattacharya were killed at Howrah and Murshidabad. There are many more examples in this regard.

Many fire brand right wing student leaders of those days are today Ministers in the Writers Building. Some of them are defending the culprits who are associated with Principal and teacher bashing!!! The black hairs of the young turks of the seventies are white now. But still the cherished memories of the pandemonium of the seventies are so very alive in their memories!!! Bengal has started witnessing the repetition of history.

But the protest is very much in the air. There are Left students who are not allowed to enter campuses. They are unable to sit for their exams. Their admit cards are being burnt in front of them. They are threatened, beaten up. They are hospitalised with fatal injuries. But still they have not given up the flag of SFI. They are in the barricade of resistance. The wall writing is sharp, bold and clear- 'If politics determines our education we must determine the politics'. This determination to determine politics is the silver lining in this worst of times.

(Ritabrata Banerjee is the Secretary of Student Federation of India.)

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