Kolkata: Faced with allegations of extortion by the Trinamool Congress’ students unions in colleges, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee last week ousted Jaya Dutta, whom she had handpicked as the general secretary in 2016, without immediately naming her successor.
Though the state’s education minister Partha Chatterjee said her removal had nothing to do with the recent allegations by students seeking admission in colleges that they were being pressured to pay up, it was widely seen as a move to shore up the party’s public image among urban voters.
Back in 2016, the Trinamool Congress was embroiled in similar controversies. It took its toll on its urban support base in the assembly elections that year. With eyes on the 2019 general elections, Banerjee chose to make a point, said key leaders of her party, who asked not to be named.
Dutta was removed because she had lost control over the union heads in several colleges, these leaders said. Faced with allegations that student leaders were demanding money from applicants, Banerjee chose to remove Dutta as the general secretary to send a message down the chain of command, they added.
Even as she addressed the controversy over admission at colleges affiliated to the University of Calcutta, another crisis reared its head at Jadavpur University—a centre of excellence for many disciplines.
The state government had recommended that the university should stop the practice of holding admission tests for its undergraduate courses in humanities. If the tests were at all held, the process should be outsourced, advocate general Kishore Dutta had said.
After extensive deliberations, Jadavpur University decided not to hold admission tests this year. In view of the uncertainties faced by thousands of applicants it was finally decided that admissions this year would be based only on marks in board examination, said pro-vice chancellor Pradip Ghosh.
Vice chancellor Suranjan Das clarified that the decision not to hold tests was for this year only, even as he admitted that decisions taken at the highest decision-making body over admissions weren’t always unanimous.
It put eminent teachers on the warpath with the university administration. Around 12 celebrated former professors issued a joint statement expressing concerns about standards being diluted and the university’s glory being “ground to dust".
While professor emeritus of English Sukanta Chaudhuri questioned the rationale for changing a well evolved system of admitting students in the arts faculty, a majority of teachers in the English department said they would stay away from the admission process.
Students have joined the agitation by starting a hunger strike. Vice chancellor Das has already reached out to the education minister and governor Keshari Nath Tripathi, who is the chancellor of Jadavpur University, but there is no sign of the standoff ending any time soon.
Four years ago, the chief minister had to personally intervene to end an impasse at Jadavpur University. This time, too, it appears that she will have to step in, said one of her aides.