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Presidency College falls prey to politics of shutdown

Calcutta, Aug. 22: Bengal today appeared to be back in the familiar disruptive-politics mode when Presidency College, an emblem of the state’s academic and cultural brilliance, was closed indefinitely by the authorities.

The state-run institution, ranked as one of the finest in India, became another spoke in a wheel that began rolling with a statewide bandh called by the Trinamul Congress earlier this month and a Jalpaiguri shutdown called by the CPM this week.

Principal Amitava Chatterjee left the campus at dawn after enduring a night-long vigil by students. But before leaving, Chatterjee took a decision many of his predecessors had shied away from despite — teachers and students said — “graver provocation”.

The students who had ensured that their principal did not leave last night prepared to dig themselves in for another night as they began a 24-hour fast outside the college gates. They were demanding “immediate reopening” of the college and “disciplinary action” against the SFI student who allegedly beat up one of their friends inside Hindu Hostel on Monday evening.

Going by signs from Alimuddin Street, the CPM leadership is not happy with either the night-long vigil by anti-SFI students or the principal’s handling of the situation. Under pressure from the party as well as the government, a meeting of the teachers’ council scheduled for Friday might demand revoking of the closure. The meeting will discuss the situation arising out of yesterday’s impasse, higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty said after summoning the principal to his Bikash Bhavan office.

“I told Chatterjee to sort out the problem after discussions with students and restore normality in the college as soon as possible,” he added. Students should not lose out on classes, he stressed.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas’ daughter Ajanta (picture in Metro) and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s daughter Suchetana are students of the college.

The message going out of Alimuddin Street was that Chatterjee should have resolved the matter “tactfully”, involving both groups of students, despite the “unwarranted” agitation by the anti-SFI group.

Making things difficult for the principal, both the Independents’ Consolidation, the anti-SFI conglomerate, and the SFI agree that there were other ways out of the impasse besides closing down the college over a “minor fracas”.

As IC representatives sat on fast outside the college, SFI activists took out a procession raising slogans for revocation of the closure order.

SFI spokesman Zad Mahmud blamed the principal for his “inability” to handle the situation. “He remained gheraoed for 17 hours without informing the police or trying to reason with the agitating students,” he alleged.

The problem has its roots in a row in the adjoining Hindu Hostel on Monday. IC supporter Pushpal Ghosh objected to “political campaigning” by SFI activists inside the hostel and was allegedly assaulted by Ankush Sarkar for protesting. SFI activists admitted yesterday that there had been “an angry exchange”, but they denied the assault charge.

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