Communists do not believe in afterlife or they are not supposed to. Therefore, they must be surprised to see the spectre of Anil Biswas returning, like Banquo’s ghost, to haunt and torment higher education in West Bengal. Biswas, during his long stint as the secretary of the West Bengal unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), appointed himself the commissar of higher education. For him this responsibility had only one aim — to establish the complete dominance of the CPI(M) in all institutions of higher learning. This dominance meant that the party decided everything from appointments to policy. Control over higher education was part and parcel of the CPI(M)’s politics. Higher education in West Bengal thus became another field for politics; loyalty to the party and not merit became the ladder to success. This process ruined higher education in West Bengal and became one of the legacies of the rule of the CPI(M).
When Mamata Banerjee came to power with the slogan of change, she made the promise that education would be freed from the shackles of politics. Institutions of higher learning, the promise of change said, would be granted their autonomy to pursue knowledge without the control and interference of either the party or the government. All this came as a burst of fresh air. The promise generated hope when the new acts for the state universities appeared to embody the principle of autonomy and freedom from political and governmental interference. This hope gained in strength from the manner in which the mentor group and the vice-chancellor of Presidency University and the vice-chancellor of Calcutta University were appointed. But in West Bengal, often the morning does not show the day. Politics has struck back.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2012 that was passed on Thursday ensures that the government will have a say in — if not control over — the appointment of vice-chancellors in the universities of the state. The bill, in fact, goes a step further; it also ensures that the government will control the manner in which the various deans of the universities will be appointed. There is no better way to describe this save as a complete return to the policies and aims of Anil Biswas. The colour of the jersey has changed, little else. There could, however, be one difference from the days of Biswas, which could make matters worse. Under the CPI(M), higher education was subject to the priorities of an organized political party; under the Trinamul Congress, education becomes subject to the whims of a single individual. This transition from party rule to individual rule is real because the supremo of the TMC listens to none and brooks no opposition. Change comes to West Bengal under the flag of retreat from promises.