Provocation and high drama at Jadavpur University
Student protests that end in violence are not something the students themselves or their institution can be proud of. By allowing it to happen, Jadavpur University students who protested against the presence of Babul Supriyo, the minister of state for environment, forests and climate change, have made it easier for the Bharatiya Janata Party to tom-tom its favourite tale of lawlessness in West Bengal. Space must be given to all points of view and their representatives. But there can also be little doubt that the students objecting to the entry of the minister — invited to a programme organized by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad student groups — were countered with combativeness and then, allegedly, by provocative behaviour by the minister’s followers and security detail.
The minister’s attitude was a good indicator of his party’s values. The gentleman seemed unaware that the vice-chancellor of a university is not its ‘owner’, as anyone from the BJP or its cohorts would expect to be according to their culture. The vice-chancellor does not go to any programme unless he is invited. The minister accused the vice-chancellor of failing in his duty to be present when he, the Central minister, had come; by asserting this hierarchy, the minister implied that a vice-chancellor must serve political representatives. This flagrant show of disrespect to a senior academic holding the vice-chancellor’s chair was followed by the remark that the vice-chancellor was a leftist. It was because of the failure of his kind that West Bengal was in such a mess today.
It is a measure of the depths to which India has fallen that a vice-chancellor can be addressed in these terms by a politician. The narrative that was taking shape was supported by the rescue dash of the governor of West Bengal — although it was prevented from being quite the dash it was planned to be. The governor has blamed the vice-chancellor and the police for failing to maintain order and to protect a Central minister. The vice-chancellor’s steady refusal to call the police to quell the agitating students in spite of ‘orders’ has helped the BJP’s narrative. The governor’s subsequent statement talks of “way forward steps”. Although he had recently enquired what his role as chancellor was, the rescue dash — a job for the police — places him as governor firmly on the side of one particular party instead of being above politics. It also destroys the dignity of his chair. An intriguing event at this time was the forcible entry of around 300 outsiders and the violence on students that followed, including arson, vandalism, the burning of pictures of Tagore and Marx — who was it that broke Vidyasagar’s statue the other day? — destruction of the students’ union room, with ABVP being painted on its walls. University students did not do this. Who did? If the minister-governor optics feed into the BJP tale about West Bengal, the optics of this violence are its underbelly. The threat of the one coalesces with the threat of the other.