Mamata returns to ‘safety’ but are students safe? (West Bengal Newsletter)

Kolkata, April 13 (IANS) West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee left Delhi in a hurry, cutting short her three-day visit to the capital to firm up the state’s annual plan, saying: “Delhi is not a safe place.” Back in Kolkata, however, even campuses of top educational institutions appear to have turned unsafe for students under her watch and have become a battleground for the state’s vindictive politics.

It’s anyone’s guess how long this cycle of hooliganism will last.

Suspected activists of the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad (TMCP), the students’ wing of ruling party, stormed the Presidency University campus Wednesday and beat up students, the very day Banerjee landed back in the city from Delhi.

The vandalism at the state’s “centre of excellence” came close on the heels of the heckling of Banerjee and her Finance Minister Amit Mitra by members of the Students Federation of India (SFI) Tuesday, at the Planning Commission in New Delhi.

The activists of SFI, the students’ wing of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), heckled Banerjee and Mitra in the national capital over SFI leader Sudipto Gupta’s death in police custody in Kolkata, April 2.

Following noisy protests in the national capital, Banerjee cancelled her meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, citing ill health, and flew back to Kolkata.

Kolkata, however, erupted in protest as academics, students, writers and scientists expressed shock and anger over the vandalism at Presidency University and the historic Baker’s laboratory.

A day after the violence, students kept away from classes, responding to a strike by SFI and Independent Consolidation. The campus looked like a fortress with a large number of police personnel on vigil at the gates.

However, the two consecutive incidents, student leader Sudipto Gupta’s death and vandalism at Presidency, raised a big question mark on campus politics in the state.

Even Magsaysay award winning writer Mahasweta Devi, otherwise a great fan of the chief minister, remarked that student politics must be “kept apart” from general politics.

The eminent writer, however, was not the first to express concern over the nature of campus politics in the state in recent times. The bereaved elder sister of Gupta had earlier called for a ban on politics at educational institutions and urged students not to join politics.

Gupta, a post-graduate student of Rabindra Bharati University, died allegedly after policemen assaulted him in custody. Police, however, claim the SFI activist died after he crashed into a lamp post while being taken to jail.

What made the Presidency case worse was Trinamool Congress secretary general Partha Chatterjee’s statement, dubbing the incident “trivial”.

Governor M.K. Narayanan, who strongly condemned the attack on the students at the campus, opined that politics in the country had become ‘coarser’ over the years.

Narayanan rushed to the campus two days after the incident and apologised to the students on behalf of the administration. The former Indian Police Service officer urged students to stand up in the face of atrocities and demand police presence on campuses across all varsities.

The governor said a new set of laws and rules are necessary to deal with “unprecedented” incidents in educational establishments.

As her party, administration and police drew flak from all quarters, Banerjee – under treatment at a private nursing home – called up the vice chancellor saying she was “devastated” by the vandalism.

Meanwhile, ever since the heckling of Banerjee and her cabinet colleague in Delhi, the opposition Left Front has alleged that around 1,000 offices of the Left parties in the state have been vandalised, in “retaliatory strikes”.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose said CPI-M leaders were being attacked by Trinamool workers in almost all the districts.

(Mithun Dasgupta can be contacted at [email protected])

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