How the Forward March of the Left and Right has Changed Student Politics at Jadavpur University
Last week’s violence on campus, where union minister Babul Supriyo was allegedly assaulted after arriving for an ABVP event, was a culmination of years of skirmishes
File photo of Jadavpur University. (GETTY IMAGES)
Kolkata: Whenever slogans of “azaadi” have been raised in college campuses across India, the RSS-affiliated student group Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) has spotted an opportunity to gain a foothold by retaliating with its now-time-tested Hindu nationalism strategy.
This is why there is a striking resemblance between the student politics at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jadavpur University (JU) in Kolkata. Left-leaning student unions clashing with the ABVP and other right-wing groups has become a common occurrence on these campuses.
Over the years, ABVP saw a huge opportunity to cultivate those who were against the Left unions in Kolkata, but had no platform to raise their voice against these organisations like the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), Democratic Students' Front (DSF), United Students' Democratic Front (USDF), We The Independent (WTI) and All India Students Association (AISA).
It all began in 2011, when the ABVP slowly started making inroads into JU. Now, with more than 200 members, it is the main opposition against the Left students’ union at the varsity. In 2016, the standoff intensified after state BJP president Dilip Ghosh criticised “azaadi” rallies (for Manipur and Kashmir) taken out by the Left students’ unions. “It became a place of anti nationals,” Ghosh had said.
Last week’s violence on campus, where union minister Babul Supriyo was allegedly assaulted after arriving for an ABVP event and governor Jagdeep Dhankar had to rescue him, was a culmination of years of skirmishes.
While ABVP is preparing itself for the next student union election, all the Left-leaning groups have united to fight the saffron brigade. “All the Left unions unitedly protested Babul’s entry at the varsity campus. They want to finish ABVP here. It’s a turf war for them. For ABVP, it’s a struggle to reclaim our identity,” said Jishnu Basu, RSS general secretary in South Bengal said, while adding that the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress had nothing to do with the protests.
However, he said, “The state government could have handled the situation properly.”
At JU, the previous students’ election was held in 2017. Since then the arts department is controlled by the SFI, while science and engineering departments are under WTI and DSF. ABVP is the main opposition while the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad linked to TMC has no presence.
Not only at JU, the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad is weak or underprepared in most universities and colleges of the state. Leaders from rival parties allege that this is the reason why the Mamata Banerjee-led government has put students’ elections in West Bengal on hold.
Speaking to News18, ABVP state secretary Subir Haldar said, “This is not for the first time that we faced such protest from the Left unions. In the last five years, we have faced more than 20 such violent protests in JU. Their only agenda is to stop us from gaining prominence in the varsity. They fear that in the next students’ union election, we might emerge as the winner. Despite having ideological differences, they are united when it comes to ABVP. They don’t want to give us an inch.”
When asked about allegations that Supriyo provoked the protesters, Haldar said, “All the TV channels were present at the spot. Show me a single shot where Babul da was involved in instigating the students. The whole battle is of area domination and nothing else. They are finding it difficult to accept the fact that we have significant presence in Bengal, and out of frustration they are taking violent steps. They raised slogans like ‘Hamey Chahiye Azadi’, ‘Sangh Se Lengey Azadi’. It is unfortunate that they are raising such objectionable slogans.” Supriyo was shown black flags, heckled and allegedly assaulted by a section of students at JU where he had gone to address a seminar organised by the ABVP. The minister said the protesting students tried to “provoke him by openly calling themselves Naxals”.
West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who reached the varsity later in an unprecedented move to rescue Supriyo and meet members of the administration, also faced stiff resistance from students who refused to allow the minister to leave the campus.
When contacted, SFI state secretary Srijan Bhattacharya said, “None of our members were involved in the manhandling of Babul Supriyo. Please find out the names who were involved in the assault. It is a fact that we were protesting and raised slogans against Babul’s entry inside the varsity campus because of their (BJP’s) Hindutva ideology which is leading to mob lynching, disastrous education policy, etc.”
“They are committing blunder after blunder while running the country. ABVP is desperate to pitch its Hindutva ideology inside the liberal JU. We will not allow this,” he added, while condemning the ABVP’s “Jai Shree Ram” slogans inside the campus.
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