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Strike ends,but peace still elusive in Santiniketan

After an impasse that lasted almost two weeks,employees of Visva Bharati University finally called off their strike last Thursday....

Written by Shiv Sahay Singh | Santiniketan |
November 9, 2009 3:58:10 am

After an impasse that lasted almost two weeks,employees of Visva Bharati University finally called off their strike last Thursday,with students flocking to their art,dance and music classes from 6 am. But despite the apparent return to normalcy,tensions are still simmering,with the agitators setting a deadline of one month for the university administration to meet their demands,particularly a CBI inquiry into the alleged corruption of Vice-Chancellor Rajat Kanta Ray.  

“Since the Prime Minister (who is also Chancellor of the university),has considered our appeal for an inquiry,we are withdrawing from the strike. We are happy that he has considered our demands. However,within one month,we want the Vice-Chancellor to go on leave,” said Debobrata Sarkar,president of the university’s Karmi Sabha.

Late on Tuesday evening last week,a statement issued from the Prime Minister’s Office had appealed to all involved in the agitation to put an end to the strike. “I will ensure that an impartial inquiry is conducted into the circumstances leading to the agitation and the allegations that have been levelled against the university authorities and other entities concerned,” the statement said.

However,many students and academicians have their doubts about how long this peace will last and fear that another disruption is imminent. Piyali Mondal,a second year master’s student in Odissi dance,says the nearly 5,000 students of the university were worst hit by the suspension of classes. “We have not touched our syllabus for the December semester. We don’t know how we will complete it. Besides,the crisis is far from being resolved,” said Piyali.

The fissures between the administration and striking employees are still very visible. While the employees say that they have drawn the Prime Minister’s attention,the V-C and his aides claim that the PMO’s release has also brought the activities of the strikers into the ambit of inquiry.

“The striking employees do not want an inquiry. They want me to go because their vested interests in appointments,promotions,transfers and admissions are not being served,” Vice-Chancellor Rajat Kanta Ray had said. “There would not have been any strike if the Vice-Chancellor had spoken to us about this matter. He has never cared for our opinion,” said Kishore Bhattacharjee,president of the Teachers’ Union.

The stand-off at Visva Bharati had quickly become politicised,with several politicians taking up the issue. Earlier,Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had urged for an inquiry into the charges made against the Vice-Chancellor,even as Congress leader Subrata Mukherjee,local CPM MP Ram Chandra Dom and Trinamool MP Sudip Banerjee visited the university and held talks with the striking employees.

“All the politicians who visited us are our well-wishers. If these people were not with us,we could not have carried out our protests,” said Debobrata Sarkar,who is also a member of Trinamool’s education cell. Even Rabindranath Tagore had close associations with politicians,he added in an attempt to shrug off allegations that the university is becoming a breeding ground for political activity.

The Teachers’ Union,backed by the Congress,together with the Karmi Sabha supported by the Trinamool Congress,have levelled charges against the V-C of corruption in appointments,medical bills and non-cooperation with the university staff. Vice-Chancellor Ray,a well-known historian with strong political connections,has not taken the allegations lying down and has demanded an inquiry against employees as well.

Incidentally,this is not the first time a V-C has faced dissent in the university. Several former V-Cs were also unable to complete their tenures because of protests and conflicts with the unions.

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