Way back in the 1970s,the Presidency College which is now a university was a Naxal hub. Even today,12 of its students are said to be aiding rebels,with some of them based at Jungle Mahal. However,as interrogation of Maoist leaders arrested in West Bengal reveals,the Naxal focus has now shifted to Jadavpur University (JU).
Kanchan,the arrested CPI (Maoist) state secretary,has reportedly told the security agencies that a recruitment process is on for the outfits military wing and JU has emerged as a major centre for cadres. Besides,the Maoists are believed to have a backup module among the university students.
Kanchan has reportedly also said that 12 students from Presidency are working actively as CPI (Maoist) cadres in Lalgarh.
As the Maoists try to spread their network to urban areas,JU and Presidency in fact are not the only institutions they are tapping. According to security agencies,youngsters studying at colleges in Howrah and Hooghly are also their target.
The arrested Maoists have told the police that a number of their cadres have moved into the outskirts of Kolkata for setting up urban bases. They stay in comfortably furnished,rented houses in areas such as Rajarhat,Baguihati,Uluberia and central Kolkata. We have traced some of the rented houses where the Maoists took shelter. The monthly rent of such a house is as high as Rs 10,000 per month, said one of the investigators.
From their bases in the city,senior Maoist leaders regularly visit the JU campus,with apparently no surveillance. In August this year,for instance,Maoist ideologue Vara Vara Rao held a meeting with the varsitys students. The authorities later admitted that they had no knowledge of the event.
A plan was announced then to instal CCTV cameras,but this was opposed by the pro-Naxal students union,United Students Democratic Front (USDF). Eventually,the authorities had to put the plan on hold.
In the late 90s,Gopal Chandra Sen,the then JU Vice-Chancellor,had been shot dead by Maoists on the campus because he had opposed a radical students movement. In 2007,during the Nandigram movement,five students of the USDF had been detained by the police in Katwa for suspected Maoist links. They included Lokeshweri Dasgupta and Priyonkar Dey of JU,Supriyo Sur of Presidency College and Jaladhar Mahato.
The USDF has more than 150 members from several departments,including Engineering,History,Industrial Relations and English. According to university sources,around 50 among them work as part-time members of the CPI (Maoist) in different frontal organisations,and contribute six to eight hours per day for the party. They take turns to bunk classes and work on jobs assigned by the party. Dropout students of the varsity continue their association with the Maoists,such as Abhishek Mukherjee,who is the secretary of the Kolkata City Committee of the CPI (Maoist). He is among the four dropouts who have gone underground and whose whereabouts are not known either to the university or their families since 2008.
Five others from Presidency are said to have dropped out and gone underground during the same period.
Refusing to comment on the matter,JU Vice-Chancellor Pradip Narayan Ghosh said: This is a very sensitive issue.
Debalina Chakraborty,a former JU student who is the president of the Matangini Mahila Samiti,which is considered by security agencies as a frontal womens organisation of the Maoists,is actively involved in the activities of JU students politics. We have worked in Singur and Nandigram. Our team has also worked in Lalgarh. The government has branded us Maoists because we work for the poor and the oppressed, she charges.
What makes JU so attractive for the Maoists apparently also is that the varsity has teachers who are sympathetic towards the Naxal movement. Take the case of Amit Bhattacharya,a JU professor who is a member of the Lalgarh Mancha and Bandi Mukti Committee. Says he: Several of our brilliant students have sacrificed the comforts and ambition of their lives and devoted themselves to the Naxalite movement. They have a right to choose their ideologies. If they are wrong,they will learn from it on their own. But we know that they are working for the rights of the tribals,and the poor and oppressed villagers. Theres nothing wrong in it. The state (is conducting) a witch hunt. If anybody goes against the state,the government brands them Maoists.
Asim Chatterjee,a former Naxalite leader from Presidency,however,doesnt approve of the new trend as compared to the 1970s.
In the 1970s,during the Naxalbari movement,we formed a students organisation. The present scenario is a vulgarisation of that Naxal movement. The Maoist leaders have focused on cadre recruitment rather than leading a genuine students movement. The universities are being used as platforms for cadre recruitment. The students are also more interested in moving to the forests and becoming armed cadres. They have no commitment to ideology like the Naxalites of the 1970s.
Superintendent of Police,South 24 Parganas,L N Meena admitted that they were keeping a surveillance on some students of the university as well as on certain locations which could not be disclosed.
We have our own way of maintaining vigil on the activities of pro-Naxalite students in the university. We are also probing their Naxalite links. But as far as the activities of students are concerned,like holding conferences with senior Maoist ideologues,we cannot do anything on the campus until the Vice-Chancellor of the university informs us, Meena says.