Six girls queued up in the portico of the main building at Presidency University around noon on Wednesday, awaiting their turn at a makeshift cubicle with a wooden letterbox at its centre.
One by one, they picked up a piece of paper, ticked a box of their choice in secrecy and dropped it into the box. The choices? Yes, he should resign. No, he should not resign.
The group of six was among the 1,000-odd students who voted during the day for and against Harvard professor Sugata Bose remaining their institution’s mentor and member of the governing council after being nominated as the Trinamul Congress’s candidate for the Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat.
The students formed small queues before seven referendum booths set up across the campus. Members of the students’ union assumed the role of “polling agents”, striking names off a list against each secret vote that was dropped into a box.
Teachers who oversaw the union polls last month did not participate in the referendum.
“Students came in large numbers as this issue matters a lot to them. We expect most of the 2,135 students would vote by Thursday,” said Sumalya Mukhopadhyay, the president of the Independents’ Consolidation-run union.
The referendum started at 10.30am, half an hour before classes commenced for the day. Volunteers manning the booths brief the students, many of them first-time voters, on the system adopted for the referendum.
“We asked them to fold the ballot after ticking an option and drop it in the designated box. The student who cast the first vote at a booth was shown that the box did not already contain any ballot to ensure transparency,” a polling agent said.
Till 7pm, 1,135 students had participated in the referendum. The second phase is scheduled for Thursday.
Aishwarya Kazi, a first-year student of philosophy, said the referendum was “a brilliant idea” that gave her the chance to “speak my mind”. “I strongly feel those who have been tasked to mentor our institution should not bring politics into the campus. A contradiction crops up. If you start with the mandate of depoliticising the campus, you should stick to it.”
Apart from the main building, booths were set up at the Baker Laboratory, Derozio and Netaji Subhas buildings so that students of all 21 departments could cast their votes.
Bose, professor of oceanic history at Harvard, had told Metro on Tuesday that he knew how to “compartmentalise my roles”.
“In the US, the registered Democrats and Republicans attached with academic institutes follow this ethics,” he said.
Bose found many backers among the students on Wednesday. “I voted for his retention as I believe that if he becomes an MP, Bose will bring more funds for the institute, which needs financial support urgently,” said an undergraduate student of physics.
Sunanda Dutta Roy, a second-year student of English, said she didn’t believe Bose would be able to balance his priorities. “I wonder how he will compartmentalise his roles if our campus again comes under attack from Trinamul,” she said, alluding to the vandalism at Presidency on April 10 last year by outsiders flaunting flags of the ruling party.
The sealed boxes containing the votes are being kept in the union room. They will be counted along with the votes cast on Thursday.
The result is to be announced on Friday, though nobody knows yet whether an unofficial students’ referendum will have a bearing on Bose’s official association with Presidency.