In a major breakthrough in the four-month-long impasse between Jadavpur University Vice-Chancellor Abhijit Chakrabarti and the students, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced here on Monday that Mr. Chakrabarti had decided to resign.
Fifteen students had been observing a hunger strike on campus since January 5, demanding Mr. Chakrabarti’s resignation for ordering a police crackdown on the students while they were agitating on campus on September 17, 2014. While State Education Minister Partha Chatterjee was expected to meet the fasting students and come to a conclusion, Ms. Banerjee paid an unexpected visit to the University on Monday evening along with Mr. Chatterjee and announced the Vice-Chancellor’s decision.
Communicating to the students from the Registrar’s office through a loudspeaker, Ms. Banerjee said, “The Vice Chancellor has expressed his desire to resign. I want a peaceful environment to prevail in the University. There must be a conducive environment for education. I was concerned about the future of the youth and students. No academic activity was happening for the past four months.”
This came on a day when parents of the students also joined the movement and observed a token hunger strike on campus, as a show of solidarity.
As the students broke into thunderous applause, their four-month-long anger gave way to tears of joy. Students immediately organised a victory march from Aurobindo Bhavan, the administrative building and the site of the agitations, to the University playing ground. The parents and faculty members also joined the students in their celebrations.
Pressure had begun to mount on the University authorities and the State government after the students began their hunger strike. On January 10, Bengal Governor and University Chancellor Keshari Nath Tripathi had ‘cautioned’ Mr. Chakrabarti for the delay in taking action in the August 28 molestation case, which had triggered the agitations. In the convocation in December, 2014, Mr. Chakrabarti was left severely embarrassed when the majority of the students, including gold medallist Gitashree Sarkar, refused to receive their degrees, protesting against his presence at the dais.
The students’ movement was vociferously supported from the initial stages by the Left-backed Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA).
JUTA members had also held separate agitations, demanding the resignation of Mr. Chakrabarti, who was reportedly close to the ruling Trinamool Congress. Incidentally, while Mr. Chakrabarti was the interim Vice-Chancellor at the time of the police crackdown last year, Mr. Tripathi had retained Mr. Chakrabarti as a permanent Vice-Chancellor in October, 2014.
Ms. Banerjee’s political move to clear the deadlock comes at a time when many educational institutions in the State are marred by disturbing events. A day before the Jadavpur University convocation, school students of the Visva Bharati University, in Santiniketan at Birbhum district, had gheraoed their Vice-Chancellor Sushanta Duttagupta, forcing Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid to cut short his visit to Santiniketan and leave without having lunch. Clashes broke out in the city’s Calcutta University, weeks before college elections were to be held.