On Saturday, the student wing of the CPM was swept out of power in Calcutta University, whose union it had been holding since 1978. The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) never stood a chance, having managed to file nominations in only 187 of 610 seats. It did manage to win 129 of the 187.
From campus to campus across West Bengal, a failure to file nominations has shut out the SFI, already swept out of power by the Trinamool Congress student union. It has been able to file nominations in only 26 of 248 colleges where parties have submitted their papers, apart from Calcutta University.
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Elections are being held this month to 511 educational institutions, which include universities. The polls have to be completed by January 31, according to an order from the education department. With the month drawing to an close, and a number of elections already held, the Left union is not very hopeful about filing nominations in too many of the remaining institutions.
In Kolkata, which has 112 institutions including the Calcutta, Rabindra Bharati and Jadavpur universities, the SFI has been able to file nominations in just four colleges and the one university. It has won one of the colleges, Victoria Institute. In Howrah, which has 21 colleges, the SFI hasn’t been able to file nominations in any.
Significantly, one college where neither the SFI nor the Trinamool union has made any impact is Jogmaya College, Mamata Banerjee’s alma mater. The DSO, student wing of the SUCI, has won it once again, having been in power there since 1960.
Campus elections had been banned on February 19, 2012, following a series of violent incidents in various colleges. The government recently lifted the ban.
The loss of the Calcutta University union is the biggest of the SFI’s blows. CU was the big consolation in the SFI’s poor performance in 2010-11, the last time elections were held. It was one of 50 unions remaining with the SFI, out of 413. Until then, the SFI had been dominating college unions, though the slump had already started by then. In 2009-10, the SFI won 260 of 413 unions, down from 335 out of 424 in 2008-09.
Education Minister Bratya Basu attributes the trend to a loss of popularity of Marxism among the student community.
Interestingly, though, he says it does not bode well for student politics. “We must say that in a democracy, there should be space for the opposition,” the Trinamool Congress minister told The Indian Express.
The SFI, on the other hand, has been alleging that the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad (TCCP) has left no room for the opposition. “They have not allowed our candidates even to collect nomination papers from college offices,” said SFI state president Madhuja Senroy. “It is part of a campaign by the ruling party to stifle all opposition in every sphere. But we are not out; we will fight to the finish.”
The TCCP denies allegations that it is shutting the SFI out of the nomination process. “Please tell them to print the names of all candidates in their party organ and we will send the nomination papers to their homes,” said Shankudev Panda, president of the TCCP. “There may have been tension and fights revolving around the elections but that never prevented any student from collecting nomination papers. To borrow a phrase from Marxist literature, I will say that the SFI has withered away from our schools and colleges.”
To some who have seen the SFI in its heyday, history has come full circle. “There was a time when the SFI ruled the roost and there was little opposition. Now it is just the other way round,” says educationist Amal Mukherjee, former principal of Presidency College. “The TCCP has gone one step further. While the SFI used to give some space to the opposition, the TCCP is ruthless and ferocious, and does not allow any opposition. It is a dangerous trend.”