In the beginning of 2013 in an unprecedented undemocratic step the West Bengal State Government abruptly stopped all college elections. On the back of this autocratic order we from the SFI led a students’ movement against the Government’s repressive policies demanding the restoration of campus democracy. The state machinery came down brutally upon us, and our comrade and dear friend Sudipto Gupta gave his life fighting for this cause. Finally, one year later, the order was repealed and in January 2014 elections for Student unions have been held in 400 colleges (of a total 488) and 12 universities (of a total 17) across West Bengal.
But, while there was huge hue and cry about strict enforcement of election rules and a great show of security measures, it soon became evident that in effect the administration had no interest in safeguarding the democratic rights of common students on campuses. At every step of the election process – from the collection of forms to the filing of nominations, during the campaigning, and during the casting of votes, SFI activists and supporters were threatened and assaulted, while in general all students were terrorised by members and leaders of the TMCP who were consistently armed and aided by the TMC as well as anti-social elements from outside the campuses. Affirming the administrative bias and protection that the TMCP is receiving, the police stood by passively watching while students were being beaten up brutally, with as many as 360 students injured, of whom around 60 critically, during the entire course of the elections. The 3 districts of the north, North 24 Parganas, Purulia saw the maximum use of brute force. Nearly 130 students were forced to withdraw nominations across the state. The numbers who were prevented from submitting nomination papers is several times higher. This blatant disregard for fair democratic values defines a paradigm shift in the student politics of West Bengal, as the student’s wing of the ruling party decides to avoid fighting the real ideological battle by resorting to blunt force and terror.
Even in the face of these dire circumstances our comrades have competed in elections for more than 1500 seats throughout West Bengal, of which we were victorious in 623. Notable are the victories in Rajabazaar Science College, Chaipat College, Lalgola College, Raigunj Surendranath Mahavidyalay, Pathankhali College of Midnapore, Jangipur College, Siliguri Girls’ College, Scottish Church College, Jadavpur University Arts Faculty, Alliah University, Ranigunj Girls’ College. The TMC further underlined its abhorrence of democratic values at Ranigunj Girls’ college, where the newly elected students were not allowed to enter their own college to form the students’ union board by a 500+ strong gang led by the local Trinamool MLA.
The student community stands witness to these events of the election month, and it is evident to us that the TMC and its students’ wing are using all means available – from armed goons to the state administration and police – to suppress any voices of dissent in our campuses. Wherever they could exercise their freedom the students have elected SFI candidates as their representatives. This itself is significant indication of the general mood in the campuses. The members and supporters of the SFI have sent out a clear message that they will not bow down to the terror tactics of the TMCP. While the battle for reinstating students’ elections has been won, these elections have proved that we are far from re-establishing democratic principles and practices in our colleges and universities, and towards this end the SFI commits to lead the progressive democratic students’ movement in West Bengal.
20th February, 2014