| A science faculty students' union poster declaring a semester exam boycott pasted on a classroom at Jadavpur University on Monday. Students of other departments wrote the test wearing black badges. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
After the Jadavpur University (JU) authorities came in for severe criticism from all quarters for the police action on fasting students, the ruling CPM rose on Monday in their defence, putting a virtual seal of approval on the June 10 crackdown.
'We must keep in mind that a university is a place of learning,' said Anil Biswas, secretary of the state CPM. 'No authority can allow unruly students to disrupt academic activity. All things considered, the vice-chancellor took the correct decision when he called in the police.'
Biswas's defence ' significant in that he is regarded as the education czar by virtue of his control over educational institutions in Bengal ' comes as a shock to student unions, including the SFI and other Left ones.
It also signifies that his party, which used, among other things, disruptive and violent student politics through the 1960s and 1970s to grab office, has come a long way.
'There was no police excess,' Biswas said, rubbishing the reports of the crackdown. 'The reality is that the police had gone there to shift the students, who were falling ill from fasting, to hospital,' he stressed.
Interestingly, Biswas and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who decided to project a tough image for both party and government ' most probably to blunt the criticisms of comrades, including Jyoti Basu ' themselves had come up through the route of student politics.
According to senior administration officers, initially Bhattacharjee, too, was disturbed at the crackdown and told the vice-chancellor what he thought of it. But later, he decided to stand by the police, directly under him, to blunt criticism. 'He was very upset when the crackdown report reached him,' an officer said.
The state police administration in a report has informed Bhattacharjee that the lathicharge on fasting students on the night of June 10 followed a round of consultation with the JU authorities. The report provides an answer as to why the JU authorities were desperate to get the students to call off their fast-unto-death.
If the authorities were unable to get the agitation withdrawn by Friday, and began making preparations over the week-end, it would have been nearly impossible to hold the semester examinations in the science and arts faculties as scheduled from Monday.
'They did not want one or more sick students on their hands on the day the exams were to begin,' university sources said. The university's worries were compounded by the fact that the semester exams of the engineering and technology faculty were already in deep trouble, thanks to the agitation by the faculty of engineering and technology students' union (Fetsu).
So, the JU authorities wrote to the district administration and the South 24-Parganas police, asking them to 'take appropriate action'.