Harvard professor Sugata Bose has had an election thrust on him even before he could file his nomination for the one he has chosen to contest.
Students of Presidency University will vote over two days, starting Wednesday, to determine whether Trinamul’s Lok Sabha candidate for Jadavpur should continue as the institution’s mentor, a member of its highest decision-making body and one of the headhunters for its first full-term vice-chancellor.
The vote, organised by the Presidency students’ union, has no official implication yet but the majority opinion — whichever way it swings — would reflect the mood on the campus vis-à-vis Bose’s political debut.
Many at Presidency seem to think Bose’s impending election debut as the ruling party’s nominee contradicts his role as the apolitical face of the campaign to rescue an institution that had lost its sheen because of alleged political interference.
Members of the Independents’ Consolidation, which runs the students’ union at Presidency, were busy preparing ballots on Monday and running a classroom campaign to build up its case for a referendum. The rival SFI put up posters opposing Bose’s continuation as the chairman of the Presidency mentor group.
The ballot for the vote reads: “After being nominated by the present ruling party in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, Mr Sugata Bose should resign from the governing council and mentor group of the Presidency University and the search committee constituted to appoint the vice-chancellor.”
The two options are 1) “Yes. He should resign.” and 2) “No, he shouldn’t resign.”
The result will be declared on March 28, “after a counting process to be supervised by a panel including some of our teachers”, a member of the union said.
A first-year student of English who had missed the student union elections last month was bubbling with excitement at the prospect of participating in the referendum, her “first election”.
“I will vote,” she declared.
In West Midnapore for a lecture at Vidyasagar University, Bose declined comment on the “referendum” but stressed the need to “compartmentalise my roles”.
“Today, after my lecture, I was asked questions by the waiting media about my candidature. But I made it clear that I would be talking only on my lecture, nothing else. I know how to compartmentalise my roles. In the US, the registered Democrats and Republicans attached with academic institutes follow this ethics,” said the professor of oceanic history at Harvard.
“Why should one assume that I would be following the evils of ‘Anil-isation’?” demanded Bose, who returned from Delhi late on Saturday after attending the second meeting of the search committee tasked to shortlist names for the post of full-time vice-chancellor.
By “Anil-isation”, Bose was alluding to the late CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, whose alleged interference in academic matters is often blamed for the state of many institutions in Bengal, including Presidency.
Sumalya Mukhopadhyay, president of the students’ union, said Bose becoming a Trinamul candidate was being put to vote in the light of the vandalism at Presidency by people flaunting the ruling party’s flag.
“The opinion of 2,100 students is being sought on this issue. Whatever comes out of the poll would be communicated to the university authorities, the state government and governor M.K. Narayanan, the chancellor of the university,” he said.
A poster put up by the SFI outside the portico of the main building reads: “Dosoi April tomar college bhanglo jesab damal chhele, tader dayay ‘mentor’ aaj Lok Sabha-te ticket pele (The mentor has secured a Lok Sabha ticket by the grace of those who vandalised your college on April 10).”
Another poster a few feet away — this one put up by the Trinamul Sikshabandhu Samity — seeks votes in favour of Bose, not in the referendum but the election that he has been nominated for.
“I wonder what Bose would say if Trinamul supporters storm the campus again today,” said a third-year student of English.
A third-year student of economics had a different view. “He is an eminent academician. Why should we assume that Bose would bring politics into the campus if he gets elected?”
On allegations that he was being backed by the “April 10 attackers”, Bose said on Monday: “The incident is under investigation and the mentor group, condemning the incident last April, posted its message on its website. I won’t say anything more.”
There is no rule stating that a mentor or a member of the council or the vice-chancellor search committee has to step down if he or she is fielded in the polls. “The call is entirely his,” a senior official said.
An academician not associated with Presidency said this was “not about rules but propriety”.
“The chief minister had constituted the mentor group to help Presidency emerge as a centre of excellence without any political interference. Now that Bose is fighting the polls on her party’s ticket, questions about his neutrality are bound to crop up. The April 10 incident has complicated matters for him. He should quit all positions to put the controversy to rest,” he advised.
So would Bose choose to continue as the chairman of the mentor group and be part of the council regardless of the outcome of the referendum?
“I am seeking counsel from appropriate quarters and will make my stand clear before filing the nomination on April 24,” the Harvard professor said.