Amid high drama, Union Minister of State (MoS) for Environment, Forest & Climate Change Babul Supriyo was heckled and manhandled by a section of students at Jadavpur University (JU) on Thursday. The students gheraoed Supriyo for over five hours, stopping him from leaving the campus. When Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar rushed to JU in the evening, his vehicle was also blocked for about an hour, before a huge police contingent reached the campus and escorted them out.
Supriyo later alleged that he was assaulted. “I was severely thrashed, my hair was pulled, and I was punched and kicked,” he said. “This is not expected from students of JU. If they have a problem with me coming here, they should have debated the matter. They should not have assaulted me. They cannot stop me from going anywhere… This is the state of the education system in West Bengal,” he said.
Later in the day, ABVP supporters went on a rampage inside the campus and vandalised the union room of the Left students’ union.
The trouble began around 2.30 pm, when Supriyo went to JU to address an event organised by ABVP. He was gheraoed by protesters, from Left-affiliated student organisations, carrying black flags and shouting at him to “go back”.
Refusing to leave, Supriyo entered into a verbal altercation with the students. Vice-Chancellor Suranjan Das tried to intervene and asked Supriyo to proceed to the event.
Supriyo then asked the V-C why he wasn’t there on time to receive him. “Apart from being a politician, I have a separate identity. I am an elected representative, a Union Minister. Why didn’t you receive me,” he told Das.
“I was not invited,” the V-C replied.
“I was invited to your campus. You should have been there. For people like you, there is anarchy in West Bengal. I am sure you are a Leftist,” Supriyo said. “A central minister is coming to your campus. You wanted this to happen,” he added.
The standoff continued for nearly an hour. When Supriyo finally entered the auditorium, the students continued their protests outside.
After the event, Supriyo was again heckled and allegedly manhandled — at one point, his spectacles fell off. Das, who tried to intervene, was also heckled. Supriyo asked Das to call the police, but the V-C declined, citing police atrocities on students on the campus in 2014. Das later reportedly fell ill and was taken to a nearby hospital.
The protesters alleged that Supriyo had insulted and threatened some students. “He insulted the students and abused our women classmates. He showed rude hand gestures and threatened us with dire consequences. We will not let him leave unless he tenders an apology,” said a student.
Supriyo refused to apologise. “They have assaulted me. Why should I apologise? Some miscreants are creating trouble, they should be rusticated,” he said.
As the standoff continued through the afternoon, the Governor, who first called up Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Chief Secretary Malay Kumar De, reached the campus at around 7 pm. He escorted Supriyo to his vehicle, but they could not leave the campus as the students blocked their path. This continued for around an hour, while both Dhankhar and Supriyo remained inside the car.
Finally, at around 8 pm, a huge contingent of police reached the campus and escorted the Governor’s vehicle out, through another gate.
“I had to go to JU. A Union minister was held for over three hours. The Vice-Chancellor and Registrar left the campus. All avenues were exhausted, and I had to go personally so that the matter was resolved. He (Supriyo) is with me now,” Dhankhar told The Indian Express later.
“I am the Chancellor of the university. I told the students that I was ready to listen to them, that I would try my best to address their grievances,” he said.
A statement issued by Raj Bhavan said: “The Governor takes the incident very seriously as it involves the unlawful detention of a Union Minister and this is a very serious reflection on the law and order of the state and on the conduct of law enforcing agencies.”
Condemning the incident, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, “There is no security of a Union minister in Bengal. There is no law and order in Bengal, otherwise the Governor would not have to intervene to rescue the minister.”
“We do not support this. In a democratic system, there is no bravery in heckling an elected representative. We condemn this,” said senior TMC leader Tapas Roy.
The TMC, however, criticised Dhankhar. “It is most unfortunate and shocking that our Governor, the custodian of the Constitution of the State, without informing the elected government, went to the so-called rescue of the BJP leader… BJP leader Babul Supriyo went there to attend the BJP students’ wing programme without informing the government,” said TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee.
“No one should deny democratic space to anyone. But I don’t know who is responsible for this. Has the BJP or the state government done this,” said CPM MLA Sujan Chakraborty.