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History repeats itself
Violence in college campuses is not new to West Bengal. Student politics has undergone severe upheavals whenever the state has stood at political crossroads. Old-timers recall how Naxal students at Jadavpur University put up armed resistance against the CRPF for days in the early seventies. Both the State's tactics of intimidation and the student resistance intensified after the second United Front government fell. In the clashes, University vice-chancellor Gopal Sen was killed on campus. The College Street campus of Kolkata University, led by Ashim Chatterjee, was also on the boil.
Founding president of the Ashutosh College Students' Union, now Trinamool Congress general secretary, Partha Chatterjee recalls, "I remember how BPSF supporters who later floated SFI dragged a student out of a room and threw him down from the verandah. I even rescued Gautam Ghosh, a Left supporter, when some of our activists chased him with a dagger. There were occasions when Mamata Banerjee was pulled by her hair by the SUCI's student wing DSO supporters. But the college principal didn't ever call the police. "
Things began changing after the Left Front came to power in 1977. Chief minister Jyoti Basu asked the police to stop 'mass-copying' in colleges. Employers then did not recognise the degrees of students graduating from law colleges or medical schools in the state. SFI leaders gained support in many colleges. As the Left Front built its mass base, student leaders made a desperate bid to control colleges in central Kolkata, then under Chhatra Parishad leader Asok Deb. Violent fights became a regular event in the Sealdah area through the early eighties. In shocking incidents, Chhatra Parishad supporters threw Samir De, a student of Surendranath College, down from the first floor, while another student, Madhumita Mitra, died after a bomb explosion.
Clashes receded in the '90s when student union elections became a one-sided affair. The SFI had consolidated its base in most colleges by then. Often, rival student organisations were not even allowed to submit nomination papers. In a few elite colleges, anti-SFI forces put up a fight, terming themselves 'independents'. But across the districts, local CPM leaders called the shots in most college matters. After the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, however, the SFI hegemony faced a growing challenge. With the Trinamool Congress marginalising the CPM in south Bengal, the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad began fighting back inside colleges, often with external support. As both sides clash furiously today, the violence shows no signs of fading. Neither do the memories.
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