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Protest irony hits CU campus

Students shouting pro-Trinamul slogans held Calcutta University vice-chancellor Suranjan Das hostage on Monday within a campus he aims to rid of disruptive politics so that they can study in peace.

The irony of the gherao from 11.30am till 2pm hit home when the protesters screamed “Mamata Banerjee zindabad” and demanded to know why the CPM mouthpiece Ganashakti had been allowed to hold a programme in the centenary hall.

Tamaghna Ghosh, the general secretary of the Trinamul Congress Chhatra Parishad, accused the university of bending the rules for “Buddha-Biman” while denying several colleges permission to organise functions in the centenary hall.

Vice-chancellor Das, whose participation in the valedictory session of the Indian Science Congress was in doubt till the protest was called off, muttered “no comments” as he hurriedly left for the Salt Lake venue a little after 2.30pm.

Barely a month ago, Das had vowed to crack the whip on bickering employees’ unions that had turned the campus into their battlefield. He proposed that all forms of agitation should be banned from 10.30am till 5pm to spare students the disruption.

Monday saw students from the Trinamul union matching, if not outdoing, the employees who had plunged the campus into turmoil.

Trinamul student wing president Shankudeb Panda, last seen backing the blackmail tactics of Class XII examinees of a Santoshpur school who had failed to crack their qualifying test, was also back in business.

University officials said the decision to keep college functions away from the centenary hall was taken after a section of students damaged furniture during an event around three months ago.

“It was decided that students would be allowed to use the auditorium only for academic programmes. We had overhauled the interiors and upgraded the audio system ahead of the inception ceremony for the centenary edition of the Indian Science Congress in June last year. How could we let such an asset be damaged?” a senior university official said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had attended the science congress function at the venue, built in 1957 to mark the centenary of Calcutta University.

Ganashakti celebrated its 47th foundation day at the hall last Friday, continuing a more than 15-year tradition. Former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Left Front chairman Biman Bose were among the speakers.

Last year, Trinamul leader and former railway minister Mukul Roy had attended a programme organised in the auditorium to float the Sara Bangla Siksha Bandhu Samity, an organisation representing university employees loyal to the ruling party.

Some blamed the government for the tide of student unrest over everything from exam results to college functions. “The lack of strong, decisive action has emboldened students to stage protests whenever and wherever they want,” said a teacher of the Bengali department.

On November 27, rival factions of the Trinamul employees’ union, led by Naxalite-turned-party leader Dola Sen and MLA Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, had got into a scuffle and hollered their demands over microphones in front of the vice-chancellor’s chamber.

An inquiry panel constituted in December to probe the violence and suggest ways to prevent such disruptions has yet to come up with a report.

The number of protests on the College Street campus has increased over the past year, a university official said.

“Someone or the other is staging a demonstration almost every day. Monday’s was not the first one in 2013, and we have only completed a week.”

Pro-Trinamul employees had marched through the campus last week and again on Monday to mobilise support for a general meeting.