Kolkata: The screaming Lal Salam posters on the weather-worn walls of Jadavpur University seem to break the sheer silence of the green zone near Alapon Canteen inside the campus.
At one corner, many young people are huddled over their mobile phones, busy re-evaluating the students’ poll results declared on February 20, while another group is heard discussing Karl Marx’s Grundrisse.
Busy in their own world, they are chewing over varied subjects while consuming liberal amounts of tea in earthen cups.
One can witness a similar ambience at the Presidency University and most of the campuses in Bengal. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi is also not very different, especially the area in front of Jhelum Hostel, popularly known as Ganga Dhaba – famous for its anda (egg) paratha, milk coffee and political discussions.
Be it Bengal or Delhi, the flavour is the same and so is the ideology. Meet this young brigade – mostly Left-leaning – which is not only giving sleepless nights to the ruling party in Bengal but also putting up resistance to the saffron ideology spreading across the country.
In the recent past – especially after the completion of the first term of the Narendra Modi government – these young people took up position against what they see as the BJP’s politics of polarisation and it gained momentum after the emergence of issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR).
While trying to decode why the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – despite strongly propagating its ideology – has failed to adequately strengthen its position in the student politics of Bengal, state secretary of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) Srijan Bhattacharyya said, “It’s not very complicated. If you ask any student’s wish, you will get an instant reply: ‘job and social security’. Let’s follow the trend from 2010. When there was a change in government in Bengal in 2011, the Left Front and its students’ wing were on the back foot. The people, especially the young, welcomed the change with the hope of getting jobs and social security. They welcomed the change because they felt that the previous government failed to fulfil their expectations. Now this change (the TMC in power) is also fading away. People understood that the TMC has also failed to keep its promises. Therefore, the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad (TMCP) is nowhere in student politics in Bengal.”
Bhattacharyya said that while the BJP is aggressively pushing to take the reins of West Bengal, both the saffron party and Trinamool are only showing grand dreams to the state’s youngsters. “But in reality, the situation is the same, which includes no job security and pushing youngsters towards a dark future. Post 2016, we saw a large number of young people being attracted towards the Left-backed students’ wing in Bengal. While interacting with many, we came to know that they are frustrated over the unemployment issue and the central ruling party’s idea of Hindutva,” he said.
For the first time in the 65-year-old history of the Jadavpur University in Kolkata, the ABVP contested the students’ union polls last week and finished second in the engineering faculty, ahead of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI). However, it failed to open its account while the Left Democratic Students Federation (DSF) retained all the four office bearers’ posts in the engineering faculty. Another group, We the Independent (WTI), retained the science department. The SFI, which is the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M), has retained all the seats in the arts faculty.
The previous students’ election in JU was held in 2017. Since then, the arts department is controlled by the SFI, while science and engineering departments are under the WTI and DSF. The ABVP is the main opposition while the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad, linked to the ruling TMC, has no presence.
Not only at JU, the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad is weak or underprepared in most universities and colleges of the state. Leaders from rival parties allege that this is the reason why the Mamata Banerjee government has put students’ elections on hold in many campuses in the state.
Bhattacharyya said the youth were exasperated with the many ‘unscientific’ claims of right-wing leaders and their attempts to push a muscular nationalism theme. “In every house across the country, you will see a family struggling to get employment to survive. The same goes for these youngsters. They are under tremendous pressure from their families and society to get jobs,” he said.
“Our ideology is, fighting for our rights and I think this overpowered the thoughts of the BJP and ABVP. This is the new counter-narrative to the BJP’s religious polarisation.”
The ABVP, the students’ organisation affiliated with the BJP’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has for the last few years been trying to gain a foothold in universities and college campuses in Bengal to challenge the Left-leaning student unions. It saw an opportunity to fill the ‘nationalist vacuum’ and take along those who disagreed with the ideology of the Left unions, but had no platform to raise their voice against these organisations.
It all began in 2011, when the ABVP slowly started making inroads into the JU. Now, with more than 200 members, it is the main opposition against the Left students’ union at the varsity.
In 2016, the confrontation intensified after state BJP president Dilip Ghosh criticised “azaadi” rallies (for Manipur and Kashmir) taken out by the Left students’ unions. “It has become a place of anti-nationals,” he said.
Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA) general secretary Partha Pratim Ray said that basic issues like social security, better education and employment have greater appeal for the youth than divisive politics.
“The memorable self-goal which went against the ABVP in our state was BJP Bengal unit president Dilip Ghosh’s criticism of the students. He had termed Left-backed students’ groups as anti-nationals. I think the students feel that, at least at the college level, only Left-leaning groups can stand for their cause. They (Left) have earned this space through their practical and no-nonsense narrative to other students.”
However, the ABVP president at Jadavpur University, Suman Das, rejected the theories of the Left.
“Over the years (since Independence), the Left and Congress prepared their narrative by distorting our history and by misleading the young generation through false reports. Their narrative was taught in schools and colleges for decades. In Bengal also, the Left ideology was taught for more than three decades. Both the Congress and Left radicalised the young minds for years and whatever is happening today is a fallout of the misleading narratives,” said Das.
“We never got a chance to correct those incorrect narratives. Now, when we have a government at the Centre, we are trying to tell the truth to the people that how Congress and Left ruined our country. We all know that any new step faces a strong opposition. Here also we are certainly going to face opposition, but we are sure that people will slowly realise our intention and will support us.”
Political expert Kapil Thakur feels that the students’ movement led by Left-leaning people will intensify over citizenship issues.
“I am monitoring all the students’ agitations from JNU to JU and I felt that it is not ‘adventurism’. I felt it’s not that someone liked the style of raising slogans and joined the movement. I felt that it’s a movement against those who are trying to snatch away their rights and ideas of patriotism,” he added.