Bengal’s political drama, now playing in Calcutta University

Once unbeatable, CPM’s student body SFI fields no candidate; ABVP steps in to fill the void.

Written by Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay | Kolkata | Published: January 12, 2015 3:24 am
The students’ union at Calcutta University was run by the Students Federation of India (SFI) for 32 years in a row. (Source: Express Archive) The students’ union at Calcutta University was run by the Students Federation of India (SFI) for 32 years in a row. (Source: Express Archive)

With the Left losing ground in West Bengal and the BJP slowly and steadily occupying its political space, the state’s educational institutions also seem to be witnessing a transition from red to saffron.

The example of Calcutta University is most glaring. Last year, Students Federation of India (SFI), the student wing of the CPM, lost the elections in the varsity. This time round, they have not fielded a single candidate for the 600-strong students’ body. The elections are scheduled to be held on January 17.

The SFI ran the university students’ union continuously for 32 years. It won the elections first in January 1978, six months after the Left front came to power in the state. Saifuddin Chaudhury, former CPIM MP, then a student of Islamic history, was the first general secretary of the union.

While the SFI won the elections in 2010-2011, no elections were held in 2011-2012. In 2013-2014, it lost the elections. This year, the SFI did not file the nomination papers for a single seat.

Contrast this with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the BJP. The ABVP, which used to have a negligible presence in Calcutta University, is now contesting elections in 32 seats. Last month, for the first time in the state, the ABVP won the students’ union election — in Lalpur college in Purulia district.

The Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad (TMCP), the student wing of the TMC, is contesting all seats, while the Chhatra Parishad, the student wing of the Congress, is contesting 20 seats. Even the Democratic Students’ Organisation (DSO) of the SUCI has filed nomination in 16 seats.

When contacted, the SFI blamed the TMCP and claimed they were forced to stay out of the poll fray. “We took about 140 nomination papers but the TMCP people did not let us file them. The papers were torn and destroyed. We banged our head at every door but nobody listened. And look at the ABVP. They have been allowed by TMCP to file nomination papers. They two are hand in glove in opposing us,” SFI state secretary Madhuja Sen Roy told The Indian Express.

She also said that the SFI had appealed to the state Education Minister Partha Chatterjee to introduce a system of filing nomination papers online. “The state government is trying to introduce online admission. Why can’t they do the same for students’ union elections?” she said.

However, even senior CPM leaders found it baffling that not a single candidate was fielded for the polls. “Is the situation that bad? I am not that sure. I will have talk to our student leaders. I think this is not acceptable,” Gautam Dev, CPM state secretariat member who used to be a student leader, said.

The ABVP, meanwhile, said they would gradually replace both the TMCP and the SFI.

“Like their parent body, the SFI has been discarded by students. And the TMCP, which runs its politics on intimidation and extortion, is also going to be voted out by students. Though we used to have a minuscule presence in Calcutta University, we are going to show our presence in a big way this time round. And we will grow bigger, nobody can stop us,” Subir Haldar, ABVP state secretary, said.
Shankudev Ponda, TMC general secretary and observer for TMCP, said SFI’s allegations were baseless.

“Have they filed any complaint anywhere, at any police station or the education department? Calcutta University is under media glare, so if we have terrorised them in such a way, that would have got media attention. SFI, as an organisation, has crumbled. Their cadre base has depleted. That is why they did not find people to contest for the elections,” Ponda said.

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