CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty has accused Mamata Banerjee of influencing the police investigation into the death.
Mamata Banerjee and Suvendu Adhikari.
(Photo: Arnica Kala/The Quint)
Even as Kolkata Police probes the recent ragging-induced death of a first-year student of Jadavpur University, top leaders, political parties of all hues, their students’ affiliates, child protection, and human rights bodies have jumped onto the blame-game bandwagon.
Like most other issues in West Bengal, the tragic death too made its way to the Calcutta High Court, where a petition demanding justice for the 17-year-old student was listed for hearing by Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam on Monday, 21 August.
The petitioner is Sudip Raha, vice president of Trinamool Chhatra Parishad, the students’ wing of the Trinamool Congress (TMC). Raha’s lawyer is TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee, underlining the political thrust of the litigation.
Raha has made West Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose a party in the case on the grounds that he is “deliberately not appointing” a vice chancellor for Jadavpur University and is, therefore, responsible for the mess in the university.
Making the Governor a respondent is not surprising given the running battle between the constitutional authority and the ruling party.
As of 22 August, a total of 13 current and former students of Jadavpur University are now in police custody in the case. A police officer disclosed that out of 14 students who played an active role on that fateful night, 12 had been rounded up to help recreate what had actually transpired resulting in the fresher’s death.
But, hand in hand, with the police investigation, the issue is being rapidly politicised by leaders across the board.
Trinamool Attacks the Left
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, while speaking at an Independence Day eve function in Kolkata’s Behala locality, blamed left student unions for the “lawlessness” in Jadavpur University, indirectly holding them responsible for the undergraduate’s death.
She said that “aagmarka CPI(M)”, or fiery Marxists, who have turned Jadavpur University into “atankpur”, or the abode of terror, are preventing the installation of CCTV cameras mandated by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and simply don’t allow the police to enter the campus.
Quoting the teenager’s father, the CM said that some communist students – driven by their ideological opposition to religious practices – had told the victim that the “maduli” or an amulet, that he was wearing according to his beliefs, won’t be tolerated inside the “red fortress”.
Banerjee rarely misses an opportunity to slam the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which her TMC evicted from power in 2011.
Educational campuses are hotly contested spaces among political parties. Importantly, although Banerjee’s party is in power for a third successive term, its student wing, Trinamool Chhatra Parishad, hasn’t managed even a toehold in Jadavpur University, which is considered a center of academic excellence.
Rivalry between TMC and CPI(M) is also being whetted by upcoming general elections although they have joined the opposition alliance INDIA.
“It is a free for all,” a retired chief secretary of the state told The Quint on the condition that he remains unnamed. “All interested parties are going ahead full steam, full speed – and the devil takes the hindmost,” he remarked.
“The boy from the faraway village, who came to our city with dreams in his eyes, was waylaid and now everyone wants their pound of flesh from his dead body,” the former top bureaucrat added.
BJP Calls for NIA/CIA Investigation
Sukanta Majumdar, president of the West Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), latched on to the CM’s “maduli” remarks and said: “Left and radical left groups have captured Jadavpur University and behave as if it is a liberated zone. They are freethinkers and have an anti-India agenda which is intolerable.”
Buoyed by the arrest of a Kashmiri student in connection with the teenager’s death, Suvendu Adhikari, leader of the Opposition in West Bengal, is demanding that the Kolkata Police hand over the case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) because of its “multi-state ramifications.”
He also wants the Kashmiri’s residential and OBC certificates probed to find out who helped them acquire those papers.
CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty, in turn, has accused Banerjee of “lying” and influencing the police investigation into the undergraduate’s death by blaming left students.
Chakraborty, a former MP and central committee member, said that the sole objective of her statement is to prevent the police from arresting the real culprits as they are aligned with the TMC.
SFI Also Blames ‘Radical Left Groups’
Srijan Bhattacharya, state secretary of the CPI(M)-affiliated Student Federation of India (SFI), said three ultra-left student organisations – Democratic Students Federation (DSF), We The Independent (WTI), and Forum for Arts Students (FAS) – are “destroying” Jadavpur University.
He underlined that none of them are affiliated to or owe allegiance to any political party. “These are shadowy organisations with Naxalite/Maoist core and a law unto themselves with zero supervision or accountability.”
Bhattacharya further alleged that during the last student union elections in Jadavpur University held in 2020, SFI lost to DSF in the engineering faculty, to WTI in the science faculty and defeated FAS in the arts faculty.
“All the nine current and former students arrested so far in connection with the undergraduate’s death belong to these three radical left groups. These outfits call themselves anti-establishment but share a common agenda of opposing SFI-CPI(M) with TMC backing. Because of their covert links, the CM is trying to divert attention from them by attacking us without any evidence,” he claimed.
According to Bhattacharya, these ultra-left groups mounted the “No Vote for BJP” campaign before the last Assembly elections to help the TMC. “It is anybody’s guess who funded their drive. The interoperability of these groups with the ruling party is evident from DSF leader Tanmay Ghosh joining the TMC where he is now general secretary and spokesperson”, said Bhattacharya.
Significantly, BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari has endorsed Bhattacharya. He said: “There are 3-4 small organisations which are acting as the B-team of the TMC. These outfits had organised a ‘No Vote for BJP’ campaign during the 2021 Assembly polls. We have to uproot them from Jadavpur University which has become a hub of anti-socials.”
The Quint reached out to the top leadership of the three groups – Gourav Das (DSF), Suniti Mukhopadhyay (FAS) and Krishnendu Kundu (WTI) – for their response to the charges levelled against them by SFI and the BJP.
Das and Kundu responded on WhatsApp but did not answer questions texted to them. Mukhopadhyay did not take calls or respond on Whatsapp.
Debraj Koley, a former FAS leader, told The Quint that the group’s members “are not in a mental condition to talk to journalists.”
‘Accountable for Safety of Students’
Although Jadavpur University had several brushes with the law in the past, never before did the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR) play such an active role as it is playing this time around.
Ananya Chatterjee, advisor to WBCPCR and former chairperson, told The Quint that the constitutional body had to step in as a big chunk of the university’s students are minors who need specialised protection and care.
“We have made sure that Jadavpur University administration is being made accountable finally for the safety of students and they are having to answer why they were not following Supreme Court orders on ragging and the UGC guidelines for general discipline,” she said.
Four constitutional bodies – WBCPCR, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Human Rights Commission and UGC – are working jointly on the case.
“We want to pull Jadvapur University out of the hole it has sunk into over the years. Its academic excellence became an excuse for gross indiscipline and complete disregard for authority by students with the backing of professors aligned with the left, and sexual harassment,” she said.
(SNM Abdi is a distinguished journalist and ex-Deputy Editor of Outlook.)
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