From Sen to Supriyo: Bengal student politics has a long history of violence

Jadavpur University was quite busy and in-the-news during the latter half of last week, albeit for entirely unremarkable reasons. It wasn’t for any educational seminar or cultural workshop that the university dominated the news cycle, but for something that certain colleges in Bengal have come to be associated with: unjustified political violence.

It has not even been six months since the attack on the then BJP president Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata, when it was passing by the Calcutta University campus, and now we have a Union minister, Babul Supriyo, being assaulted, allegedly by a bunch of left-leaning students inside the Jadavpur University campus.

Supriyo was there to address a seminar organized by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. The flare-up ended after Governor’s visit to the university campus to rescue Supriyo. But is the issue resolved? Let us wait and see.

That the Jadavpur University students never had great reverence for ministers is no news. Violence had taken over the university campus back in 2010 when engineering students decided to flash black flags at the then West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee during his visit. This had led to a lathi charge. Next thing you know, about 2,000 students boycotted exams scheduled for the following the day in protest.

In 2016, Jadavpur University students associated themselves with the Jawaharlal Nehru University turbulence over the chants demanding ‘azadi’ for Kashmir and calling for ‘tukde-tukde’ of Bharat.

The Jadavpur University had taken to the streets with a banner that proclaimed: ‘We are JU students and we are not anti-national’, while the participants of the convoy chanted ‘Hum kya chahte - azadi. Kashmir ki azadi. Manipur ki azaadi. Nagaland ki azaadi’, as per news reports.

Some students went a few steps ahead and arranged a rally opposing the crackdown on JNU students after slogans were raised in support of a terror mastermind.

Even an issue as trivial as screening of a movie – like, Vivek Agnihotri’s ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’ in 2016 – is enough to trigger disruption in the campus and create a ruckus.

The trend of campus violence in Jadavpur University, however, is not a recent one: it’s a saga spanning decades. The murder of former Jadavpur University Vice Chancellor Gopal Sen in the turbulent 1970s is still fresh in the locals’ memory. He refused to concede to a band of Naxalite students who had called for a boycott of exams: for this, he was shot dead on the campus just a day before his retirement.

Vice chancellors have always been a target for students of a particular political ideology: Ramaranjan Mukhrejee of Burdwan University had to hide himself in a toilet to dodge an armed attack.

The vice chancellor of Calcutta University during the mid-eighties, Santosh Bhattacharya, was caught in a unique but false situation. Being the state Governor’s and not the state government’s choice, he faced severe resistance from teaching and non-teaching staff, backed by the Students Federation of India. Presidency College has had its own share of struggles with Naxalites, too.

The depravity of student politics reached its peak with the dawn of the communist regime in the state which lasted for over 30 years.

Once a Congress leader, current Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in 2011 succeeded in bringing the curtain down on the communist rule in the state; but, as is evident, it is going to be a long and tough fight, till the hooliganism sowed in its college culture, gets uprooted.