A professor in a college in Konnagar in West Bengal’s Hooghly district was pushed around and punched in the face and head this week after he tried to intercede on behalf of his students, who had been confined on the college premises and were compelled to raise slogans praising Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The attackers of the professor, Subrata Chatterjee, were allegedly members of the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad, the students’ wing of Mamata’s Trinamool Congress. Although the TMCP initially denied its involvement in the incident, Mamata rang up the professor on Thursday and assured him of action against the hoodlums. Local leaders of the TMCP and the local Trinamool MLA also apologised to the professor. Two former students of the college have been arrested.
The group of people who attacked the professor had forced his students to raise slogans of “Mamata Banerjee Zindabad”, “Jai Mamata”, and “Trinamool Zindabad”.
Mamata’s quick reaction to the incident reflects her realisation of the damage that the Trinamool Congress’s reputation for hooliganism, highhandedness, and corruption is causing to the party. From being allegedly involved in college admissions rackets to atrocities on professors and teachers on college campuses, the TMCP especially, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
The BJP, the principal opposition party in West Bengal, has rushed to encash the people’s anger and disillusionment with the Trinamool Congress. A significant reason for the saffron surge in the state is attributable to the attitudes and actions that the Trinamool and its leaders have demonstrated.
Displeased with a section of her student wing leaders who have embarrassed her government, Mamata is now in damage control mode. In West Bengal as in the rest of India, the BJP has made inroads into youth votebanks, giving itself the chance to claim and sustain lasting loyalties.
Bengal has a long history of student politics that has produced not only ministers and MPs, but also chief ministers like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Mamata Banerjee. The chief minister is, however, faced with the problem of what is euphemistically referred to by her party leaders as the “overenthusiasm” of her young followers, both in the TMCP and elsewhere.
The Konnagar incident is far from being an isolated one. Very recently, a professor was abused by a TMCP member at Kolkata’s Vidyasagar College. And only a month ago, a professor at Rabindra Bharati University, also in Kolkata, had alleged that a group of students belonging to the TMCP had harassed and abused her, hurled casteist and derogatory remarks against her, and even threatened her safety and well-being.
By personally intervening in the recent incident Mamata has sought to send a message to her party’s student wing. Party leaders have been asked to speak to the student leaders regularly and to keep them “in check”. The political momentum is with the BJP, and the TMC has very little time to win back the support of the people before the civic body elections of next year, and the Assembly elections scheduled for 2021. Mamata Banerjee realises that she has her back to the wall.