Students from four universities in Kolkata took to the streets in thousands and condemned the new citizenship law outside the state headquarters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday evening, while Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar slammed the government after Jadavpur University (JU) informed him that the special convocation he was to address on December 24 had been deferred.
Students from Jadavpur University, Calcutta University, Presidency University and Aliah University did not carry any political flag but large represented Left and far-Left unions.
Dhankhar, who is chancellor of JU and other state universities by default, was supposed to confer D.Litt and D.Sc on some eminent people. JU’s decision upset Dhankhar, whose powers as chancellor have been drastically curtailed by the state government following acrimony over a range of issues.
The JU executive council held a meeting in the afternoon and deferred the special convocation, saying students have threatened to boycott the programme and stage agitations if the governor attended it. In its resolution, the council cited media reports as its source of information and said it wanted to avoid an untoward situation. The council decided that only students will be given their degrees.
“I am pained, disturbed and worried by the brick by brick destruction of the education scenario in the state. The DNA of education is being poisoned,” Dhankhar said at a hurriedly-called media conference at Raj Bhawan in the evening. “The government is unmindful of the incalculable damage it may pose to the current generation of students and our future generation,” he added.
Dhankhar raised several other issues and said he did not get any response from chief minister Mamata Banerjee despite queries. “Perhaps she is more on the street than her seat….My patience will run out. I am obliged to be very patient but only to that extent that a spineless weakness is not indicated,” said Dhankhar.
“On December 12, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University of Technology’s annual convocation was cancelled. On December 17, the governing body meeting at Presidency University was postponed. Now the JU convocation, which is traditionally held on December 24, has been cancelled. This trend indicates massive politicization and fear in the temples of education of the present government,” said Dhankhar.
“I am reacting after the fifth cancellation. Why are communications from the vice chancellor to the chancellor being routed through the government? Why is there an emergency like situation?” he asked.
Education minister and Trinamool Congress secretary general Partha Chatterjee said, “Students have taken a stand that there will be no National Register of Citizens (NRC) and no Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The Centre has united the students. The governor acts like the BJP’s spokesperson. This has made the students angry.”
“The governor has all the democratic rights to attend the convocation and we too are within our democratic rights to stage protests and show him black flags. Students have the right to refuse accepting certificates from him. He has been speaking like a BJP spokesperson and never condemned the vandalism by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad on our campus,” Said Debraj Debnath, a Students’ Federation of India leader and general secretary of JU’s arts faculty students union. Leaders of engineering faculty students union echoed similar sentiments.
Large parts of central Kolkata came to a standstill in the evening when the students took part in a mammoth road show. They stopped outside the BJP state headquarters and raised slogans before proceeding further north. BJP supporters, armed with sticks, also raised slogans in favour of CAA.
There was a huge police contingent around the BJP office as the government anticipated trouble. Police blocked one flank of Central Avenue and set up a screen on the concrete road divider so that the agitators and BJP workers could not see each other. Some students tried to cross over to the other side but were stopped. There was no violence or arrest. The agitators carried posters and effigies. Some even sang songs and raised their signature ‘halla bol’ slogan.
After the procession passed, a section of students returned to stage a demonstration at the BJP office. They were stopped again. “They have not even read the CAA. There is nothing objectionable in it. TMC, Left and Congress are misguiding people,” said BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, who was present at the BJP office.
The mood was set in the morning when Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, “They (students) should come with stretchers. If they dare to reach our office, they won’t be able to walk back.”
“Those who damage country’s property would be shot. Be it Uttar Pradesh, Assam or anywhere in the country. The TMC government will have to compensate the railways for the arson. Those who damaged railway property have been caught on camera. Didimoni (Mamata Banerjee) will not be able to save them in court,” Ghosh said.
In the afternoon some Youth Congress supporters staged a demonstration outside Raj Bhavan demanding scrapping of CAA and NRC. BJP also took out two processions in the city in support of CAA.