| Ajanta, daughter of CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, adds her name to a signature campaign demanding reopening of Presidency College. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
In Presidency College parlance, Hindu Hostel is often referred to as Uttar Pradesh. The reference, to a large extent, is to the influence the hostel has on College Street campus politics.
In closing down the college sine die, principal Amitava Chatterjee reconfirmed the “status” of Hindu Hostel as a political power centre. His action also indicated how the hostel — which, for the first time, has a dominant union (Independents’ Consolidation) locked in a territorial tussle with the union that controls the college (SFI) — might steer the course of the present crisis.
Students fear the union rivalry will result in more skirmishes in future, especially with both lobbies gearing up for the next hostel polls following a review of the hostel’s constitution. In the college elections next year, the SFI is determined to prove wrong the charges of intimidation levelled against it this year. The polls hold the key to peace in the hostel, boarders say.
“Normalcy will be restored only if the SFI succeeds in wresting the hostel union from its apolitical foe, the Independents’ Consolidation (IC), or fails to retain the college union. One union running the hostel and another the campus can spell disaster,” said a student. The SFI fought out an acrimonious election with the IC – a conglomerate of apolitical students opposed to a “political” presence in the college — earlier this year. The election ended in a victory for the SFI by the narrowest of margins. Adding an extra edge to the proceedings was the presence of the daughters of two heavyweight CPM leaders (one heading the party and the other the government). Buoyed by their backing, the SFI has taken the fight to the IC in Hindu Hostel.
This power struggle has seen the hostel, for the first time in its history, going without a full-time superintendent for three full years since 1998, when superintendent Barun Chatterjee retired from government service. He continued as ‘caretaker’ superintendent till the college physical instructor finally stepped in as hostel superintendent.
Hindu Hostel, again for the first time in the past few decades, could not conduct an election last year. The official reason put out by the authorities was “resistance from a section of students”. The SFI had demanded, after the election notification was issued on December 1 last year, a change in the voters’ rolls, resulting in protests from the IC. After protests and counter-protests, the authorities finally decided to postpone the polls.
Instead, the IC, which enjoyed an overwhelming majority in the 2000 elections, was asked to nominate a general secretary and a vice-president who would hold charge till fresh elections were held after a review of the hostel’s constitution.
The authorities have, to date, failed to even constitute that committee — an attitude, students feel, that was reflected in the principal’s decision to close down the college over a “minor fracas”. Most boarders at Hindu Hostel come from Presidency, with the rest being by students of Goenka College of Commerce and Business Administration and Maulana Azad College.
A major chunk of Presidency boarders back the IC, the SUCI students’ wing and some Naxalite groups. The Goenka College union is Chhatra Parishad, while Maulana Azad is controlled by the SFI. This makes for a potent political pot-pourri in the hostel adjoining Presidency College.