Can poll panel monitor West Bengal college elections?

March 14th, 2012 - 11:45 am ICT by IANS  

Mamata Banerjee Kolkata, March 14 (IANS) Is the state election commission equipped to monitor college elections? This is the question being asked after the Calcutta High Court asked West Bengal’s chief electoral officer (CEO) to monitor college elections in the politically volatile state.

Stakeholders, irrespective of political affiliations, feel the job would be tough for the election commission which lacks the infrastructure to conduct college elections.

The high court last week ordered that all students’ elections in colleges in the state be held under the supervision of the chief electoral officer. The court also allowed the CEO to seek assistance of the state Director General of Police (DGP) for conducting the elections in a peaceful and fair way.

The court said the elections be held thus till the seven member panel appointed by the state government drafts the guidelines for students’ elections.

The significant verdict comes in the wake of a rise in campus violence since the change of political guard last year.

“It’s true there is a concern regarding the rise in campus violence. But I really don’t know how the Election commission will be able to do it as the students don’t reside in colleges. And above all, it doesn’t look good if police are deployed in colleges for student elections,” Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhuri, political science professor in Rabindra Bharati University, told IANS.

Politics and campus violence have been synonymous with college life in West Bengal, and these peaked during the tumultuous days of Naxalism in the 1970s. But after a brief pause, the state seems to be rewinding back to anarchic days of student politics.

Although the campus politics during the 70s were driven by idealism and dreams of revolution, student politics - which along with rural panchayat bodies are considered to be a gateway and cradle of state politics - has graduated now into a culture of heckling teachers, political interference and importing goons from outside the campus to win the elections.

The importance of student politics in state affairs can be gauged from the fact that both former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and incumbent Mamata Banerjee, as also important leaders of both the opposition Left Front and ruling Trinamool, had their baptism in politics through student politics.

Since the assembly elections last year - which witnessed the end of the 34-year rule of the Left Front in the hands of the Trinamool Congress - assault on college principals and clashes between student unions affiliated to Trinamool and the Left have been a routine affair.

Three incidents which had gained state-wide attention were assaults on the principals of Raiganj College, a college in Birbhum, and Majdia College. In the first two cases, Trinamool was allegedly responsible, while in Majdia a Left-aligned students union SFI (affiliated to the Communist Party of India-Marxist) was accused of assaulting the principal.

The ruling Trinamool Congress refused to comment on the order but expressed astonishment on how the chief electoral officer will be able to conduct polls in various universities and colleges across the state.

“What will be the process in which the elections will be conducted in the colleges and how will it cover all the colleges across the state is a big question,” said Baishwanor Chattopadhay, chairman, Trinamool Chatra Parishad.

When IANS enquired about the infrastructure and plan of action for conducting college polls, state CEO Sunil Gupta declined to comment, saying he was yet to receive the court order.

The legal verdict seems to have provided the opposition Marxists with a golden opportunity of cornering the government on the issue of deteriorating law and order.

“The verdict shows the lack of democratic atmosphere to hold college polls. I know the verdict is quite different but I will say in such an abnormal situation such kind of verdict is needed,” CPI-M leader Sujan Chakroborty told IANS.

However, renowned economist and academician Dipankar Dasgupta feels college elections under the supervision of the state CEO aided by the police is the best possible way to curb campus violence.

(Pradipta Tapadar can be contacted at pradipta.t@ians.in)

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