By Tirthankar Mitra
The Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal seems to be in a minefield of troubles after sweeping to power in the summer of 2021 for the third time in succession. Now, it is confronted with the demand to hold students union elections, which comes in the wake of the cash-for-teaching-jobs scam, which has seen some of the TMC leaders making their way behind the bars, coupled with state government employees’ demand for increased dearness allowance at par with that of their central government counterparts.
The students’ union elections have not been held for years. It is not that if they are held now, the student wings of the opposition parties would defeat the nominees of Trinamool Congress in the colleges and universities, thereby enabling their parent bodies to get a toehold.
Be it CPI(M)’s SFI, Chhatra Parishad of the Congress, or BJP’s Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, they all lack the organisational muscle to defeat Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad in the students’ union election. Barring a few exceptions, the students tend to support the representatives of the students wing of the ruling party of the state.
This trend was perceptible during the previous Left Front regime and is subsequently evident during the ongoing Trinamool tenure. Faculties in Jadavpur University and Presidency University have stood out as exceptions.
What has triggered the clamour for students’ union elections then? Moreover, without a single Left Front MLA in the Assembly, why are the SFI activists’ voices being heard at the top of this chorus?
It would seem that the sole aim of the SFI-led agitation is to catch the Trinamool government in the wrong foot. The more-than-convincing 2021 Assembly election victory notwithstanding, the ruling dispensation in the state is on a back-foot.
The unexpected defeat of Trinamool nominee Debasis Banerjee in the Sagardighi by-poll has set the alarm bells ringing in the Trinamool camp. Embarrassed as it is by the cash-for-teaching-jobs scam and the demand for DA, even a handful of reverses in the students union polls will sink the morale of the TMC rank and file to a new low which augurs ill for the crucial 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Small wonder then, that the decision-makers in the ruling dispensation are in no hurry to announce the dates of the students’ elections. There is no reason to boost the confidence of the Opposition activists, even if it means reverses in a few students’ union elections.
The student wing of the Trinamool, the TMCP, however, does not share the political wisdom of their party elders. Not seeing any further than their nose, the TMCP is also seeking the elections.
A long procession of SFI activists had marched right upto a gate of Legislative Assembly on 10 March in support of their demand for elections. State education minister Bratya Basu has said that the student union elections will be held after the rural polls.
The minister said that the election across campuses would be held on separate days. He had earlier said he expects a “free and fair” election to be held in which student wings of the Opposition parties can participate.
The dates of the rural polls are yet to be announced. There is a thinking in ruling party circles of capitalising on electoral success in the rural polls and surging ahead of its rivals in the student body elections, thereafter riding the crest of the victory wave.
The ruling dispensation is seeking to buy time. It all depends onthe panchayat election results, and whether rural polls are indeed held soon after.
Another reason for holding off the student union elections until after the rural polls, which the minister left unsaid, is the requirement of a large number of police personnel to be deployed in the rural polls, that will be also be necessary in the student union election to ensure it is held in a “free and fair” manner and without episodes of violence. Trouble is expected in it as the Opposition bodies have accused TMCP of intruding into the democratic space of their political opponents and rival students unions thus attempting to intimidate them.
Right from the 1960s, student politics and violence have gone hand in hand in West Bengal. Left Front chairman Biman Bose and former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Congress leaders Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Subrata Mukherjee and Somen Mitra, Naxalite leader Asim Chatterjee, and last but not the least, Mamata Banerjee, had all their baptism by fire in students elections which often turned violent.
Chief Minister Banerjee is less than pleased with the existing state of affairs. Though she has risen from student politics, she has often voiced her admiration for the “St. Xaviers model”, in which an apolitical union looks after the students’ grievances.
The tradition of violence spilling over in students’ election continues. In February 2013 at a college students’ election in Garden Reach, a policeman was shot dead making the state government suspend statewide students’ election for six months.
After the Trinamool came to power in 2011, students’ union elections were held regularly while the complexion of these students’ bodies changed. Irregularities seeped in after 2013, and when the process was getting back to the rails in 2019, with beginning of elections in four standalone universities, the process was interrupted by onset of COVID-19.
Intimidation of opponents followed by violence has become a part and parcel of students’ union elections in the state. One looks forward to a refreshing change ushering in a quiet campus when the curtains go up for the students elections in a few months time. (IPA Service)