It was an exceptional instance of collective intolerance that Jadavpur University witnessed on Thursday. And it shall not be easy for the authorities and the restive students to erase the blot at so critical a juncture ~ when the centre of excellence is anxiously awaiting the richly coveted Institution of Eminence (IoE) cherry on its cake. The turmoil was of a piece with the periodic bouts of student unrest that, in parallel to academic excellence, has been the hallmark of the campus in recent years and from one Vice-Chancellor to another. By that token, Jadavpur University showcases a stark contradiction in terms.
Where does the Chancellor stand in a university’s architecture was the very pertinent query that the West Bengal Governor, Jagdeep Dhankar, posed very recently. The merits and demerits of his personal intervention to rescue the BJP’s MP from Asansol and MoS, Babul Supriyo, will be a subject of conjecture for some time yet. But one could argue that the renewed turmoil would not have intensified to the extent that it did had Mr Dhankar heeded the Chief Minister’s advice, specifically not to go to the campus and let the state government handle the situation. That didn’t quite happen.
In point of fact, the Chief Secretary’s assurance on normalcy cut no ice. There is little doubt that the tension mounted when Supriyo called the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Suranjan Das, “a Leftist” in response to the latter’s firm stand not to call the police and advised him to resign if he so desired. Perhaps Prof Das ought not to have left the campus when tension was building up; he reportedly returned only when things spiralled out of control. It bears recall that memories of the lathicharge ~ with lights switched off ~ still rankle. The ABVP’s seminar must have had the concurrence of the university authorities.
So too the invitation that was extended to Supriyo. As it turned out, all the stakeholders went on overkill, one section to rescue the minister, who was subjected to a six-hour gherao, and the other to thwart the programme of the saffronites. Fundamentally, it recalls the violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University where the Bharatiya Janata Party’s student front, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, has been straining every nerve to take over what was once a red bastion.
Fundamentally once more, the robust counter-mobilisation against the ABVP by students of the Left and Trinamul Congress was aimed at scuttling Supriyo’s performance. It was almost an instance of competitive vandalism as the ABVP ransacked the Arts students’ union room, smashed a computer and set furniture and cycles on fire. Both the Left-wing students and the ABVP reacted with far greater indignation than they were entitled to.
Supriyo must be grateful to the Governor-Chancellor, who performed the task of the law-enforcement authority. It is regrettable though that Mr Jagdeep Dhankar has come through as a rather partisan constitutional head. If not the police, it was the duty of the Vice- Chancellor, the pro VC, and the teachers to have ended the stand-off that was embedded in intolerance ~ an ominous development at Jadavpur University, given its libertarian ambience.