Calcutta, Oct. 6: Saugata Roy, MP and the chief minister’s newly appointed adviser, today said the hooliganism and the poorly educated decision-makers in Bengal’s colleges make him “feel sick in the pit of my stomach”.
The anguished appraisal of Bengal’s higher education system by a veteran leader who is also a retired teacher was being interpreted in two ways in Trinamul circles.
One, Roy’s remarks may be carrying the seeds of a possible course correction by a government that had started off on a constructive note on education but seemed to have lost its way. It could also be a precursor to a purge of “opportunists” who have used the political change of guard to their advantage.
Two, unable to make much headway among teachers, significant sections of whom are still said to be with the Left, Trinamul is trying to allay their fears and reassure them in order to win them over.
Trinamul supporters recently lost the elections to the West Bengal College and University Teachers Association, the largest union of college and university teachers in the state.
At Asutosh College today, Roy went full throttle. Addressing a gathering of around 50 college principals at the institution where he taught physics for three decades, the former Union minister said it was a shame that people educated only up to Class VIII headed college governing bodies and principals were assaulted, a situation he had never imagined he would live to witness.
“I feel sick in the pit of my stomach,” Roy said.
“I happen to be the president of the governing body of Asutosh College. But there is nothing to feel proud about being the head of the governing body of a college because I find that people who have only passed Class VIII now head college governing bodies,” Roy told the annual general meeting of the Calcutta University unit of the All Bengal Principals’ Council.
“We have seen on TV how the principal of Raiganj College was assaulted by students. It would have been better had I not been alive to witness such incidents,” added Roy, who had stood out from among a field of Trinamul Union ministers because of his creditable performance.
Following the pullout and resignation from the central government, Roy was yesterday appointed adviser on the industries and IT sectors in Bengal.
Roy’s fusillade on college education was punctuated by frequent bursts of applause from the college heads. Roy later said he spoke out because of an “upalabdhi” (realisation). “Ami kichhu upalabdhi korechhi (I have had a certain realisation). I felt there was a need to say certain things about the education system and so I spoke out,” he told The Telegraph.
The plainspeak by a prominent Trinamul leader came as a surprise to many because the government had so far been trying to play down the incidents of campus violence during its tenure.
After the Raiganj College principal was assaulted by students (on January 5 this year), the chief minister had herself appeared to be defending the attackers.
“For four days, Trinamul Chhatra Parishad members were locked up and assaulted. They were not allowed to file nominations (for college union elections). Had the college authorities acted in a strict and impartial manner, the incident would not have happened. He (principal Dilip Dey Sarkar) had sided with a particular political party,” Mamata had said on January 7.
Although Roy did not name anyone when he said people with little education headed college governing bodies, he appeared to be referring to former party MLA Arabul Islam.
Arabul’s affidavit for the 2011 Assembly polls, where he eventually lost, says the president of the governing body of Bhangar College is “10th Pass”. Arabul was later accused of storming the college staff room and flailing his arms about in rage, sending a jug crashing into a lady teacher’s chin.
A Trinamul source said Roy’s “upalabdhi” could be a reflection of Mamata’s mind.
A few days ago, the source claimed, Mamata had sent a message across party ranks that she was aware of too many opportunists having flooded into the party. “It’s time to purge some people, if need be,” the source said.
Roy told today’s gathering: “I can assure you that the chief minister will not allow such behaviour from students, no matter who they are.”
Finance minister Amit Mitra too attended the programme but had left by the time Roy rose to speak.
Roy felt it was the state government’s responsibility to ensure the security of principals and teachers. “The administration has a responsibility to prevent such incidents.”