When Babul Supriyo entered Jadavpur University in Kolkata Thursday, little did he know that he would spark a national controversy not just about campus politics but also “urban naxals” and being Left in India today. That is why Jadavpur University is ThePrint’s newsmaker of the week.
Supriyo was there to attend an event organised by the ABVP – the students’ wing of the RSS. The moment he turned up, accompanied by bodyguards, several students showed him black flags. A heated argument between the Union minister and the students followed. Then, it all took a turn south. In the next few hours, the 64-year-old campus would see fire, blood and shattered glass. And not for the first time.
Babul Supriyo alleged that students of Jadavpur ‘heckled’ and manhandled him, punching him and tearing his clothes.
The students had gheraoed him, demanding an apology for allegedly abusing the students.
Professor Suranjan Das, the vice-chancellor of JU whom the minister branded a ‘Leftist’ and asked him to resign, tried to intervene and fell ill. He was rushed to AMRI hospital in Dhakuria. Then, West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankar, who is also the de-facto chancellor of the university, reached the campus and brought the minister out.
Following the agitation by the students, a group of ABVP members, mostly outsiders, broke down gate 4 of the university. What followed next was vandalism and arson inside the campus, with several students getting injured.
The arts union room was ransacked, glass broken and tyres and furniture set on fire.
Not the first time
Thursday night’s mayhem brought back memories of several other incidents, including of the Hok Kolorob movement in 2014 when it was students vs Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC).
The mythical red hammer of Alimuddin Street fell on Calcutta University sometime in the 1980s. Late professor Santosh Bhattacharyya, in his book Red Hammer over Calcutta University, chronicled his three-year tenure between 1984 and 1987, writing about how he regularly faced gheraos, unrest and blockades because of his refusal to bow down to the party satraps. (Incidentally, Bhattacharyya himself was a CPI card-holder but fell from the party’s grace when he started believing in market economy of China.)
This mythical red hammer also fell on other universities of West Bengal during the Left Front rule and Jadavpur University was no different.
As the Left influence waned in the state politics, it was the All India Trinamool Congress Chatra Parishad that started spreading its wings. One by one, universities fell. But the TMC’s students wing could not succeed at the Jadavpur University.
During Hok Kolorob, students had been protesting against then V-C Abhijit Chakraborty for administrative inaction in a sexual harassment case. Then brutality by the police and goons erupted the volcano that was already simmering. It brought the Mamata Banerjee government – whose party’s student wing was still grappling with the question of how to capture the Jadavpur University – to its knees, forcing an unceremonious exit of the V-C four months after he had assumed charge.
A day after his resignation, professor Chakraborty said in his statement that he resigned in protest against ‘anarchy’ in the university.
What the TMCP couldn’t do then, the BJP has managed to do now.
Jadavpur University, which is often described as ‘a den of naxals and maoists’ by the Right-wing, now has ABVP as one of its students’ unions.
In last five years, the university has time and again hit headlines, mostly for protests and agitation against the government, the university administration and, at times, against parties like the BJP or the TMC.
In 2016, a similar conflict had broken out between the students and a group of outsiders over the screening of a film Buddha In A Traffic Jam” by Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri inside the campus. The protests took the shape of a violent agitation then as well.
String of FIRs
After Thursday’s incident, four FIRs have been registered. The first one is a suo motu case by the Kolkata Police against the ABVP members for vandalism, arson, rioting under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act. The Second one is by the ABVP against the students for allegedly assaulting Babul Supriyo. The third is by the Arts Faculty Students’ Union against outsiders for trespassing and ransacking the university premises. The fourth FIR has been filed by BJP leader Agnimitra Paul against the students for allegedly assaulting her.
Reacting to the incident, Professor Partha Pratim Biswas, president of Jadavpur University Teachers Union (JUTA), said, “In the programme organised by the ABVP, the number of students was the least. But I fail to understand why this vandalism and arson inside the campus. Why the ministers of the ruling party at the Centre are not coming forward to condemn this vandalism inside campus? This is unprecedented and unpardonable. Students have always stood against the ruling establishment in whatever way. Time and again, the Triamool Congress tried and now the BJP is also trying (to control them). They always want the students to bow down before them as they control power.”
Politics, and blame game
Meanwhile, the blame game among the political parties has begun. West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee called the visit of governor to the university as “unfortunate and shocking”. “Chief Minister requested him to give the government some time to peacefully solve the issue. Instead of taking the government into confidence, the governor went there to help the BJP. He of course did not offer any comment on the vandalism perpetrated by the BJP and ABVP goons in the JU campus. We strongly oppose his political views. Neither the TMCP nor police are involved in the incident (flaring up),” said Chatterjee.
In response, governor Dhankar issued a statement Friday. “Before his visit to the University, the Governor and Chancellor, exhausted all possible avenues that could bring an end to the unsavoury spectacle by flagging the issue to the DGP and the Chief Secretary. As a final step before going, the Governor/Chancellor took initiative in connecting with the Hon’ble Chief Minister, West Bengal, and duly apprised her of the grave situation and the consequences it may entail,” it reads.
“There were many telephonic interactions between the two and in his high regard that the Governor/Chancellor has for the Hon’ble CM, personally and for the Office the CM holds, he would not like to divulge the conversation between the two, except that he left for the place after sufficient time had elapsed and the situation did not show any change. The Governor, in his capacity as Chancellor of the University, is the guardian of all students and their well being would ever be uppermost in his mind,” the statement added.
After Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, Kolkata’s Jadavpur University is the new ‘Leftist’ bastion that everyone wants to storm. If JU falls, so does Kolkata, they think.