Calcutta Notebook


The Convocation of the Jadavpur University held on 24 December, 2014 presented a spectacle that was unique and unprecedented by any standards in the annals of university education in India. Many students, who passed the examinations successfully or even with high credentials, refused to take theirs certificates from the Chancellor, although they were not absent from the Convocation. Each of them simply went up to the dias, and left after making a bow, but not accepting his/her certificate of the degree. The first student to do so was a girl who had been adjudged the best undergraduate student in humanities. Many others followed her example later. A large number of students who were to receive their degrees did not turn up at all. This token protest against the police atrocity of 17 September and the vice-chancellor’s role in it was accompanied by vociferous demands for the resignation of the same vice-chancellor, a demand raised ever since the police attack on students. Another interesting event was that the vice-chancellor, along with the Chancellor, left the convocation place much before its conclusion, leaving the pro-Vice-Chancellor to conduct the proceedings.

When the event of police assault took place, Mr Abhijit Chakravarty was the acting vice-chancellor, and he was the person to call the police. What Mr Chakravarty then told in self-defence had few takers, and the Police Commissioner's justification for police action was a ridiculous piece of mendacity. Since then, the majority of students and teachers have been demanding the resignation of the vice-chancellor, a demand that has reverberated throughout West Bengal. But the state government and the Governor reacted by making him the permanent vice-chancellor.

The selection of Mr Abhijit Chakravarty as the permanent vice-chancellor even after the spread of students' protests throughout West Bengal was intriguing. None of the members of the search committee that had been appointed to recommend names for this post had any knowledge of the subject of engineering, let alone electrical engineering, which was Mr Chakravarty's subject of study. Yet the Governor, the ex-officio Chancellor of the university, selected his name. Mr Chakravarty, again, was alleged to be under-qualified for the post—the largest circulating daily of the country made this comment in an editorial. To agitating students and many of the teachers, his appointment seemed to be an imposition against their will.

It is deplorable that some well-known academics, following the footsteps of the ruling party chieftains of West Bengal, tried to malign the students in the most distasteful language. For example, one of them, who is currently the Professor-Director of a prestigious research institute, wrote in a leading English daily, "The primary and major voices of concern and support for an expanded JU movement, as manifested through the electronic media, mostly came from those who had personal and political reasons to blame the government... It is also well-known that various academic spots and surely JU campus have become a hotbed for drug-addicts." (Times of India, 27 September, 2014). The venerable professor possibly seems to suggest that had the incident taken place when the Left Front was in power, Mamata Banerjee and her associates would have remained silent. Again, what he considers "well-known" is not known to the thousands of guardians who every year strive to get their sons and daughters admitted into this 'hotbed of drug addicts'. To them, this 'well-known' fact will appear nothing but a novel discovery that can illuminate nobody except those who wish to enjoy flower under the umbrella of the TMC-led government. In the learned professor's reckoning, the girl who has been considered the best undergraduate of JU this year in humanities, is also a drug addict because she has refused to take her certificate and medal. Perhaps the professor, who was on the search committee and recommended Abhijit Chakravarty's name as the vice-chancellor, although himself an economist by training and profession, has reasons to be grateful to the government.

It is interesting that the President of the State Unit of the BJP, Mr Rahul Sinha, has described the incident at the convocation as the creation of 'some misguided students' who, in his opinion, are averse to learning. Those who have followed the course of the movement can only laugh at such a remark, which signifies only ignorance. The BJP leader possibly does not want to pay heed to the fact that in order to acquire a degree, a student has to study something at least. Students of Jadavpur University do not pass examinations by copying, and those who pass with high credentials have to study hard. One thing however can be said in extenuation of his conduct. After all, the BJP government at the centre has nominated the present governor of West Bengal. The BJP in West Bengal cannot do anything to embarrass him, even if he appoints a disgraced person as the VC at the behest of the TMC-led government of West Bengal.

Vol. 47, No. 28, Jan 18 - 24, 2015