Kolkata: Is West Bengal rewinding to the anarchic days of student politics of the 1970s?
This is a question troubling people of the state with the latest incident of last Thursday when a second year student, Swapan Kole, was killed and 10 students were seriously injured in two separate clashes in the state between supporters of the Trinamool Congress Chatra Parishad (TMCP) and the Student Federation of India (SFI), the student wing of the CPI(M).
Communism and campus violence have been synonymous with college life in West Bengal, especially during the heady days of Naxalism during the ‘70s. But after a brief pause, the violence seems to be back to haunt the state, and this time without the tinge of idealism.
"Right now what is going on in various educational institutions is not campus violence, it is an attack on the campus. It is a process to take away the democratic rights of the students," CPI(M) central committee member and former student leader Shyamal Chakroborty said. He, along with other student leaders, had led a massive students movement in the ‘70s.
People of his generation, in fact, cannot shake off memories of those days.
Peasants in Naxalbari, a small village in northern Bengal, had risen in revolt in 1967. The action had reverberations across the state, from the back alleys of small towns to the hallowed portals of Presidency College in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Young students, fed on dreams of revolution and revolt, joined the rebel underground movement in large numbers.
The state government reacted sternly and the movement was crushed with an iron hand. But not without blood being shed. Stories of police excesses on students and fake encounters were floated, believed and forgotten at a furious pace - and have left a scar perhaps to this very day.
But ahead of West Bengal`s most crucial assembly elections since 1977, the ghost of campus violence has returned. And this time, in an even more deadly avatar. Since earlier this year, campus violence and student politics in colleges and universities have been providing fodder to newspapers and news channels across the state.
"The situation right now is more or less like the black days of the ‘70s. At that time also campus violence was at its peak. Right now also the condition is same," said Pradip Bhattacharjee, a senior Congress leader.
"During the turmoil days of the 70s there was campus violence, but it was not at this level. But nowadays students politics on the campus is done by outsiders and criminals who have no respect for students and teachers," Trinamool Congress MP Soumendranath Mitra, a former student leader, said.
Campus violence is no longer limited to rival student groups but has also morphed into a new culture of heckling teachers and in one instance, even trying to set ablaze the principal of a college.
Former Naxalite leader of ‘70s and student leader Ajijul Haque feels that the present scenario in no way matches the level of the ‘70s.
"If someone tries to relate the campus violence of the ‘70s with that of 2010 then it`s sheer foolishness. The students` politics of the ‘70s was driven by an ideology. Now, criminals have entered campus politics," Haque said.
Analysts and academicians feel that the rise of campus violence is due to the winds of political change and the main casualty is education.
"Campus violence nowadays is far more dangerous than that of the ‘70s. At that time students` politics was not so vindictive. The violence is hampering the studies of students. But in the ‘70s, students gave the same amount of importance to studies and to campus politics too," said Dipankar Sarkar, a noted economist.
"The main casualty of this violence is education. Students are causing severe damage to their careers by indulging in violence," said Ratan Bhattacharjee, a professor.
"Actually, winds of political change are blowing in the state and that is why there is this increase in campus violence. In the last one decade, the SFI has not allowed any other students union to enter colleges. Now, other student bodies are trying to penetrate those bastions," Abhirup Sarkar, noted economist and academician, said.