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NOW, DEMAND FOR HOLDING COLLEGE POLLS GAINING GROUND?
Even as a ban is in place which has been imposed by the Kolkata Police, supporters of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) recently marched to the West Bengal Assembly demanding student union elections in colleges and universities of the state.
The student bodies affiliated to the Left parties in the state have begun forcing the government to hold students’ union elections across colleges and universities, which have been in a “spot” since 2013. Earlier, when the SFI had begun marches as part of the Vidhan Sabha Abhiyan from Sealdah and Howrah to the West Assembly, several of the outfit’s activists were detained.
The activists went all the way in order to meet Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee and West Bengal education minister, Bratya Basu, to hand over a memorandum for student union polls in the state’s colleges and universities. Students Federation of India (SFI) state committee member Subhajit Sarkar said the SFI members also gathered at Sealdah station to join the main rally near Bowbazar crossing.
However, some of the rallyists were stopped before proceeding towards the Bowbazar area as they got down from the train in Sealdah station by policemen deployed at the spot, SFI leader Anandarupa Dhar alleged. “They have lifted some of our comrades in prison vans as they alighted from the train in the most undemocratic manner. But we are determined to take out the rally. This is our right,” she added.
The rally was taken out to “Save the education sector from the fascist forces like BJP at Centre and TMC in state are bent on privatisation of education system ignoring the interest of poor students, immediate holding of student union polls in state-run and state-aided higher educational institutions and to stop the rolling out of New Education Policy, 2020 draft which is aided by the ruling TMC in Bengal,” Sarkar alleged.
Plagued by a number of allegations, raids and arrests of important leaders by the central agencies, and protests by many sections of the people on the eve of the statewide panchayat elections, the TMC government in West Bengal now faces the wrath of college students over nonexecution of polls for almost a decade.
Outfits such as the Student Federation of India (SFI) of the CPI(M) and All India Democratic Students’ Organisation (AIDSO) of the SUCI(C), have been holding protests, demanding student union elections, across universities, colleges and the streets of Kolkata. Last Friday, the SFI organised a march to the state Legislative Assembly on the demand.
However, the state education minister, Bratya Basu, has clarified that these college elections won’t be held before the three-tier panchayat polls, expected to be held in May. “We will hold student union elections. But since panchayat elections are also due soon, we have to give priority to the latter. I’m hopeful that we can hold student union elections after the panchayat polls are over,” Basu said.
Basu also added that student elections across campuses in the state will be held on separate days. “Elections in colleges and universities in north Bengal, south Bengal and other belts will be held on different days, though I haven’t yet spoken to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee about this,” said Basu. In July last year, he had said the state government was very keen on conducting elections across colleges and universities in a “free and fair” manner, and expressed hope that the students’ outfits of all Opposition parties would participate.
However, there is no reported clarity over the fact when the students’ polls will be held. In fact, all eyes are now on the rural or the panchayat elections which actually means a lot for the ruling party and before the Lok Sabha it is definitely a show of strength. Politically, the rural elections will mean a lot for the ruling TMC more so when the Congress-Left combine grabbed the Sagardighi bypoll seat recently.
It may be mentioned that till 2010, students’ polls were being held in West Bengal on a regular basis. Till 2013, students’ polls were being held regularly, however, since then the polls schedule has been affected.
In February 2013, violence triggered over college elections at Garden Reach in Kolkata, in which one policeman was shot dead. After this, the West Bengal government announced a state-wide suspension of college union elections for six months. Then, the irregularities started. After 2016, no election was conducted in universities and colleges of the state. In 2019, student elections were reintroduced, beginning with four standalone universities. But this process got interrupted by the Covid pandemic.
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL
ROBIN ROY The writer is Senior Journalist and former Managing Editor, First India