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CM beats Mamata to Presidency
Bhattacharjee, Mamata

Calcutta, March 19: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today rammed through the bill that offers freedom to Presidency College from government control, robbing Mamata Banerjee of a possible chance to carry out the reform herself.

The government tabled the Presidency University Bill, 2009, in the Assembly, ignoring the Opposition demand that it be sent for further scrutiny. The House passed the bill, which will enable the college to become a unitary university.

The Opposition did not attend the second half of the session in protest against the passage of the bill, and the chief minister’s comments yesterday on Trinamul legislature party leader Partha Chatterjee and the Congress.

A CPM leader said: “The Opposition did not want us to get the credit for Presidency’s upgrade from a college to a university. A section of our party also had reservations…. But Buddhada was firm in his stand and the party supported him.”

Accused in the past of dithering on key administrative decisions, the Bhattacharjee government this time acted with rare determination. Ironically, the encouragement had come from Mamata, who had asked at The Telegraph-Calcutta Club debate last November why the CPM had not granted autonomy to Presidency.

The passage of the bill today means the government has completed in just over four months what it could not accomplish in more than 30 years.

Three successive chief ministers — Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Jyoti Basu and then Bhattacharjee — had been presented with proposals for autonomy, first mooted in the college magazine in an unsigned article in 1972. It was an open secret, though, that the author was Dipak Banerjee, a much-respected economics professor. But bureaucratic dilly-dallying during the Congress regime and then the CPM’s eagerness to control educational institutions came in the way.

Although Bhattacharjee himself was in favour of granting autonomy, until Mamata’s provocation he had not worked up the courage to shove his wish down an unwilling party’s throat.

It is possible that the party, facing the threat of being unseated in elections a year from now, realised it might altogether miss the bus if the bill was not passed now, leaving Mamata with the opportunity to grab the credit.

As the news of the passage of the bill reached the college, Soumi Mukherjee, a second-year political science student, said: “There are so many things we stand to gain from this. Presidency will not only regain its past glory but also move forward from there.”

The autonomy advocates, however, wanted to wait before raising a toast.

“What one has to look out for is the choice of the first vice-chancellor and the body that the government has to nominate to run the university till the council is formed,” said Sukanta Chaudhuri, a professor of English at Jadavpur University who had left Presidency College.

Some people fear that the provisions of the bill will help the CPM include registered graduates, who are primarily political appointees, in the Court, one of the main decision-making bodies at the proposed university.

Chaudhuri raised another question. “Where to get 200-300 competent teachers?” But still he saw “hope” for Presidency.

Trinamul and Congress leaders vowed to continue with their opposition and met governor M.K. Narayanan, urging him to return the bill.

“We have requested the governor to send back the bill to facilitate further discussions,” said Partha Chatterjee after meeting Narayanan.

Bhattacharjee, too, saw the governor later in the day.

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