It often happens that students are in the vanguard of an upheaval against the Government of the day. This has happened in Europe, pre-eminently in France (1968) and is happening in India now. Over the past few weeks, the phenomenon has been manifest most particularly at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jadavpur University, Jamia Millia Islamia, and Aligarh Muslim University, to name but a handful.
There has been a degree of cerebral underpinning in the movements in these and other campuses. Not so, however, at Visva-Bharati University, as witnessed on Wednesday. The five-hour gherao (4-30 to 9-25 pm) of the BJP’s erudite Rajya Sabha member, Swapan Dasgupta, and the Vice- Chancellor, Prof Bidyut Chakraborty, was driven by malice aforethought, and in an institution that has scarcely been noted for academic excellence.
As often as not, it has hit the headlines for aberrations, like the one on 8 January. First, Mr Dasgupta did not visit Santiniketan on his own volition. The agitating students ought to have been aware that he was invited by the authorities to speak at a lecture series on the Citizenship Amendment Act. The Leftist student organisation’s claim that “we had objected to the guest list that included Dasgupta as he would have reduced the discussion to the level of a campaign” is presumptuous and will cut no ice.
It is a facile alibi for an ugly truth, and smacks of the same intolerance that the BJP is accused of. “How does it feel to have a mob attack a peaceful meeting on the CAA? Locked into a room now with a howling mob outside, itching for confrontation,” was Dasgupta’s tweet from captivity. It is a measure of the indiscipline that plagues Tagore’s creation and now a central university that students could scale the gates despite the presence of private security and the recently inducted CISF, albeit unwarranted.
The campus ambience remains ever so vitiated. Which obviously provoked the West Bengal Governor, Jagdeep Dhankar, to instruct the state’s DGP to invene and ensure that the gherao was lifted. The “lecture series” was not intended to be a political forum; the gherao and the rumbustous scenes have made a mockery of democratic discourse. It is hard not to wonder whether the authorities had been tipped off.
The fundamental query that remains unanswered is: Why was the venue shifted at the eleventh hour? Three issues are of riveting concern ~ Why was only one speaker invited to the seminar? Did Prof Chakraborty meet RSS members before the seminar, as alleged by some academics? Why wasn’t the date shifted in view of the Bharat bandh? Answers may not be forthcoming anytime soon.