It saddens me to write this—being a proud Bong.
Nothing will ever happen in the state of Bengal.
Nothing, nyet, nada. And it is not because of the “step-motherly” treatment meted out by the central government…..I am not saying that Bengal has always received its share of federal resources but it would be downright wrong to ascribe Bengal’s problems to that alone.
So who are to blame? Our double standards. Our politics. Our ruling party. Our opposition.
I am not going to go after the ruling CPM party or their B-team opposition, the Congress or the hysterical Mamta-led Trinamool. At least not for now. Mainly because I see them as symptoms of the malaise, rather than the cause.
Which brings me to the crux of our problem—-double standards.
And our way of doing politics.
Let me give you an example. I am an alumni of Jadavpur University, one of Bengal’s premier engineering colleges. The students who attend JU Engineering are a selection of the brightest in the state———-and I am not just saying this because I was a part of that student body.
Or maybe I am.
In any case, one would expect these students to be the thought-leaders of tomorrow—–if Bengal is to come out of its morass of strikes, go-slows, union politics and utter laziness passing off as political activism, then it stands to reason that the students of premier universities like JU will have to show the way.
Alas. The student body of JU, as represented by its student union FETSU do not think so. It’s funny really—-their double standards. Controlled by a Naxalite party, the DSF—-they are opposed to the ruling CPM-backed student body SFI. The DSF blames CPM for destroying Bengal—–nothing wrong with that.
But then their political activism recipe is the same as that of the CPM–the same kind of agitationist philosophy that killed Bengal.
Call a strike at the drop of a hat. Even if people want to work/study, prevent them from doing so. If people still want to sneak in to work/study, use physical intimidation. Destroy all opposition, destroy free speech.
The CPM started this. The DSF and by extension the JU student body follow it with gusto. And in the process, the new generation not only pays for the sins of their fathers but are also indoctrinated to pass on the wrongs to their next generation.
When I was a student at JU, I was sickened by our so-called student leaders—-at an age when people should be idealistic and foolish, they were worldy-wise and hypocritical. Most of them did not believe in the causes they themselves espoused.
I know of many of our union dadas who used to rail against multi-national corporations and the imperialist US-Europe combine while at the same time, mugging up word lists for GRE. The few I have kept track of are now either in the socialist republic of California or work for non-profit, worker-owned outfits like Microsoft, IBM and Oracle in India.
Yet these same people would bring the campus to a halt on non-issues, beautify the university by plastering posters all over campus denouncing GATT/ World Bank/IMF, take out processions to show solidarity with the farmers of Guatemala, force people to not attend classes because some students in Mechanical Engineering failed or because the library late fee went up by 3 paise.
That pissed me off the most. The fact that these union dadas could come to our class and ask us (with obvious consequences of refusing) to “support their cause” by boycotting classes and that, no matter what we thought of the issue ourselves, we had to obey. You basically had no choice. I remember the time we came to give a class test and found a huge lock put on the doors of our building by the union dadas———–we all knew what would happen to anyone, student or teacher, who would dare touch that lock. Needless to say, we “spontaneously” supported the strike.
Now let me tell you that I totally enjoyed the class boycotts………they usually meant we either headed for the cricket field in solidarity with the striking workers of a jute mill in Khardah or scooted off to Metro cinema to protest the imperialistic economic policies enshrined in the Dunkel Draft. In retrospect, older and wiser, I realize how much time we wasted doing all this and how we were poorer for all the classes we missed. And surprisingly, there were times when we did want to attend classes……….but the lock on the door and the watchful eyes of the FETSU union people kept us on the cricket field.
For the sake of public disclosure, let me confess that there was one student movement I did support and that was the half day class boycott we did in protest for Sourav Ganguly being dropped from the Indian cricket team in Toronto by Sandip Patil.
Aahh…I have got that off my chest.
The reason I am raking this up is because my alma mater is currently in a crisis. I will spare you the details—-what happened was that on the issue of examination rule changes ( a perennial flashpoint in JU may I add), some of the students got into a physical scuffle with the authorities. The authorities claimed to be manhandled, the students claimed that it was all good-natured pushing and shoving and all that they had done was that they had wrecked a car.
The authorities got angry and expelled/showcaused 5 students among the gang assembled there. All hell broke loose on campus——-the FETSU went to town asking why only 5 were pinpointed when so many more were present. To make the confusion more confounded, it seems that one of the students might not even have been present. But the main thrust of the student union’s argument was that these students had been victimized, they already had jobs and this expulsion would ruin their careers and the punishment far exceeded the magnitude of the offense.
Now look here, student agitators. Firstly, jostling and pushing and wrecking cars is not “acceptable”—maybe it is something which has gone on for so long that we have become inured to it. But it is still quite bad.
The students claimed the teachers (who they were gheraoing) had abused them…….and hence their reaction. Now whatever may have been the provocation, violence is not the solution and if you engage in violence you get punished. No sense in screaming for immunity just because you are a student. And lastly, if you are really a student agitator who thinks that violence is the only way to change oppressive conditions, then take the punishment like a man. Don’t whine. Subhash Bose, a “real’ student politician did not whine when he was expelled from Presidency College for something he did not, in all probability, commit. Because whether he actually did the deed was immaterial, he supported the cause. And that is why he walked. And became a legend.
So if you can’t stand the heat, budding politicians, stay out of the kitchen.
Now continuing our story. Writ petitions were filed in the courts against the showcause, there was general class boycott—-semester examinations took place to empty seats. The FETSU claimed that it was spontaneous——having been a student of that august institution I know what that word means. Not taking the semester exams is a very serious thing——-futures can be adversely affected by a dropped semester……….and the fact that the student unions coerced students into compromising their futures is something that cannot be supported, no matter how worthy the cause.
Then the suspended students and four others undertook a fast unto death. According to the students, the authorities did not compromise even after 2-3 days and one of the students, who was dying after 3 days of fasting, asked to meet the Vice Chancellor as “his dying wish”. The university said that they would talk only after they stopped their fast unto death (a rather reasonable stand).
Then the authorities called in the cops. The cops manhandled the students, not even sparing a girl from a severe beating……and so the detente continues.
But all this I can understand. What I cannot fathom is the reaction by the Jadavpur University Alumni —many of them pillars of society and a large number of them settled in US. They came up with a statement that roundly condemned the JU authorities, asked the students to be re-instated, asked for the resignation of the VC………………and I was totally zapped.
The students I can accept are immature and easily moved. But the people supporting student violence are well-established, responsible professionals. Do they seriously condone students who burn cars and rough up their professors?
Let me ask the alumni members this. If they disagree with their boss in New Jersey on in Bangalore, will they go and gherao him ? If he does not like his evaluation for the year, will he set fire to his boss’s car? If the boss fires him, will he prevent other people from entering the office? Will he go on a hunger strike (with the expectation that the boss will reinstate him)?
No he won’t. Because he knows he can’t. Instead of saying—“yes the university administration is corrupt and full of politics but that does not mean students can indulge in vandalism, violence and coercion without repercussions” the alumni, who should know better, are saying ” yes the university is corrupt and full of politics and the students are fully justified in what they did.”
( In Stonybrook, the administration was way more harsh on students than JU has ever been to theirs. Yet noone ever tried to gherao the president—sure they started stonybrooksucks.com where they bitch about the university nonstop. But no student resorted to vandalism and/or violence. And if they did, they knew what the consequences would be—legal action, expulsion and the sure fact that people would not shed any tears for them once they actually did something illegal.)
And the lesson students carry home? As long as you are in Bengal, gherao/strikes/violence is fine.
Which is why Bengal politics will never change. Which is why people ,who have come to perform the last rites of their fathers, will be left stranded at the airport because there is a general strike. Which is why companies will think thrice before coming to Calcutta. Which is why, despite loving Calcutta so much, so many Bengalis cannot go back to their native city because it has little professional opportunity for the sons of the soil.
I love Jadavpur University. I do not like its politicians—-students and teachers alike. Life is frustrating as a college student in JU, especially when you can see that some of your professors, are incompetent political appointees who do not deserve respect. But violence and disruption is not the solution….. in the professional world you shall also encounter detestable people as colleagues and bosses where you shall have to grin and bear it or face the consequences. Why not get used to it from the student stage itself?
At the very least, students have to understand that you cannot coerce other people into fighting your personal battles. There can be no reason good enough to make people boycott their semester exams and compromise their future.
Just like there can be no good reason (certainly not a hike in prices) for which medical procedures have to be cancelled for patients in hospitals. A son who has lost his father, a man who needs a heart are outside the scope of your political battle—–please keep them out of it.
But we wont. And that is why nothing will ever happen in Bengal.