National Situation

It’s Not Just Enough to be Anti-S.F.I: A Tale of Lost Chances and S.F.I’s Revival at J.U.

It’s Not Just Enough to be Anti-S.F.I: A Tale of Lost Chances and S.F.I’s Revival at J.U.

The Arts Faculty Students Election (AFSU) Election of Jadavpur University ended with the S.F.I. wining all four seats CP, G.S, A.G.S (Day and Evening) by a considerably big margin. Jadavpur University recognized for its academic excellence by the U.G.C. is justifiably is one of the finest institutions in the country. What differentiates it from many other institutions is its politically vibrant student’s base. J.U. Elections this time round saw four panels, AISA, USDF, FAS and AIDSO contesting apart from S.F.I. In the 2010 elections, the S.F.I. had won three out of the four office bearer posts, though at that time it had faced only one principal opponent. All the fronts claiming to be Anti-SFI failed to make their votes count, for their failure to expose the S.F.I’s incumbency and to consolidate the space for campus democracy.

The last two years have been extremely stormy with the space for students shrinking due to the introduction of new rules and regulations by the university authorities. The J.U. Campus had seen a major rupture in the 2007 elections after the Forum for Arts Students (F.A.S.) had been formed to protest against the authorities expelling 4 students from the campus without there being sufficient grounds for taking the extreme step. At that time, SFI had been in office in the Arts Faculty Students Union. But it had not paid serious attention to the extreme measures. The Forum of Arts Students (F.A.S.) had consolidated their struggle with the help of students from various institutions across India, expressing solidarity with their fellow-students. Thr FAS had been built through a process of democratic consultation and a non-hierarchical approach. The authorities had to back out because of the militant student mobilizations shaping opinion to go in students favour.

F.A.S for the first time came to power in 2007 ousting the incumbent S.F.I. 2007 also saw the climax of major struggles against land-grab in Singur and Nandigram, exposing the ruling Left-front alliance in the state, of its anti-people policies. The last two years have been equally repressive of student’s aspirations by the authorities. It started with the introduction of Code of Conduct in 2009. The Code of Conduct set rules for the ban on open programmes by the students inside the campus which also implied that the Open Air Theatre could not be available for the year’s annual festival. The students launched a movement in the name of ‘Common Students’ to get back the O.A.T. and to repeal the Code of Conduct. Compelled to say something, the SFI requested only that the O.A. T. should be made available for the one year. Despite popular demand for the repeal of the Code of Conduct, they kept silent. Similar situation ensued when in 2010, the authorities decided in the E.C. meeting that they would install C.C.T.V. Cameras as a surveillance measure. S.F.I. did not accede to the  strong reaction of ordinary students against the introduction of Camera Surveillance on the campus. Even the J.U.T.A. (Jadavpur University Teachers Association) which camouflaged itself as mediators played only a role of affirming the stance of the authorities. It was a united front of diverse organizations and masses of ordinary students that fought to retain the democratic space.  The real motives of the authorities were revealed, when mainstream media reported that with Maoists active in the campus, CCTV was necessary. In other words, militancy was to be dubbed Maoist, i.e., illegal activity, and brought under surveillance.

In November 2010, the most brutal incident since 2005 occurred in the JU campus. Students were showing black flags to the West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, and on the pretext that one of them had used violence against the police, the entire body of protestors was lathi-charged, and a case was registered against a large number of them. The university authorities did not even condemn the brutal beating of students. As a result, students launched a huge struggle. They boycotted classes, and in the Faculty of Enginnering and Technology, the final examinations.  But this was also followed by splits among the student groups, with each carrying out its own forms of struggle. The authorities formally criticized the role of the state administration in beating up students, but took their revenge by extremely aggressive action against the Engineering students, who were told they must sit for special examinations only after apologizing and after individually writing applications.

This was the context of the Arts union election of 2011. But the elections saw a total failure on the part of the anti-SFI unions. The DSO, the AISA and the USDF were bit players. All three together got on the average about 160-170  votes per post. Ostensibly, they had moved out of FAS because it was a rightwing or non-political organization. But their own actions showed they were less interested in building a common pole for the revolutionary or radical left, and more with building party fronts. Otherwise, why could these three not come together?

As for the FAS, the main challenger to the SFI, it failed to rise to the occasion. It did not adequately highlight the university authority’s repressive measures since 2007, especially in the last two years. Neither did the demands for Common Room for Girls nor the over-aspirant drives of sensitizing the university teachers click with the students. The slogan for making the Student’s Union a platform for Students Struggle, was left un-clarified with new faces fighting the elections who had little or no participation in the fight for Campus democracy. The candidature left much to be desired, with militant activists finding very limited space as other considerations predominated. The student’s consciousness to the task at hand i.e. to strengthen campus democracy was lack-lusture. This, is exactly the reason why S.F.I. who always was hand-in-glove with the authorities stance and had to face criticism from student’s community, came to power with a thumping majority. Though all the panels apparently were successful in communicating that they were Anti-S.F.I., nobody even bothered to illustrate why reasonably well. The task of winning the election and making a statement for all Anti-S.F.I. Panels was a distant dream without the exposure of the major struggles of common students against C.C.T.V., Code-of-conduct and freedom of speech and expression on the campus.

It is necessary for the leftwing students in FAS, as well as the left organizations, to realize that the negative politics of being anti-SFI will have limited value. Such a negative politics will play into the hands of Trinamul Congress, as the main backers of the TMC know quite well.  Reporting on the JU elections, The Telegraph, voice of economic liberalism and major backer of Mamata Banerjee, wrote that disunity had led to anti-left forces being defeated. For them, therefore, anti-SFI equals anti-left. They want “broad” unity for “democracy” only so that the right wing returns to power. Common students of Jadavpur must realize that the TMC and Congress alliance means a return to the days of the Chhatra Parishad, whom the SFI merely apes. The real alternative lies in fighting to expand democratic rights by fighting independently, with a real left wing platform.