“আন্দোলনই ঠিক করে দেয় আন্দোলনের পথ”। It roughly translates into a movement decides its own course. This catch phrase has been doing rounds lately quite a lot in some of the prominent movements taking place in and around Kolkata – for instance the SSC movement, Bardhaman univ movement and now, what seems to be increasingly gathering momentum, the anti power tariff hike struggle. It is no coincidence that this catch phrase is constantly being used. It is because of the presence of a very distinctly identifiable group of student[mostly]-activists who have begun to identify themselves as “independent”, more vociferously so since the Hokkolorob movement.
Now what do we make of this catch phrase? [I insist on calling it a catch phrase for the following reasons : 1. it keeps getting used and reused a lot, through photo-posts or status updates of those in or associated with the struggles or with the group in question, i.e. it is used as a marketing or sales tool for the movement and 2. there is generally no elaborate explanation of the concept as a follow up. These two, I believe are characteristics of catch phrases which have recently come to dominate the pattern of political rhetoric largely mediated by social media. As I have argued elsewhere, “campus democracy” and “independent student movement” are also examples of such “Empty signifiers” which are more empty than they might appear at first sight.
Now that I have sufficiently established “movement takes its own course” as a strategic catch phrase, let us proceed towards analyzing it. One very obvious way to react to it would be to say, why bother? Ultimately it is the movement that matters and it is after all just a slogan and if it stays hit and manages to attract people, let it be. Unfortunately, it is difficult to leave the matter at such a rudimentary level of investigation. Let us give an example why it would be problematic to do so. For instance, I distinctly remember the debates that arose when a Maoist sympathizing student organization had negatively portrayed prostitutes in one of their slogans whose core matter may have been otherwise progressive. Therefore, what a slogan or catch phrase is constitutive of in terms of its symbolic cannot be taken lightly. Continue reading It is a “Power” Struggle Alright! – A Centrifugal Take on Recent Movements
There are three aspects that are getting attention in the ongoing Presidency College agitation:
- The political proximity of the VC with the ruling govt/party and her obvious submissiveness towards the Chief Minister, epitomized by her bending before the latter waist downwards!
- The fact that the VC had greeted the Chief Minister within the premises of the University, the same CM under whom TMC goons attacked the university premises a couple of years back.
- The fact that some students were manhandled by the police when they tried to approach the CM.
Now one can question if demanding the resignation of the VC in this case was indeed necessary. After all, this VC wasn’t in office when the TMC goons had vandalized the campus. However, students are reportedly complaining that the administration is terrible under her. I am not sure specifically what kind of administrative problems are being referred to here but I think the major anger is because of the political affinity of the VC towards the govt/CM/TMC. Also, some departmental heads may have been removed during her tenure and this may have angered some students, but it seems that factor has not been at the forefront of the agitation. Nor has been the fact that it was under this VC that the 75% attendance criterion was stringently enforced. But perhaps while formulating a populist agenda, it was difficult to incorporate that issue, as we saw during the actual agitation over the attendance issue, the participation was low and indeed popular opinion wasn’t entirely in favor of the agitators.
There is little doubt that there is an effort to replicate the “hokkolorob” formula [and by that I mean the combination of anti authority and anti government rhetoric combined with more dubious and ambiguous rhetoric like “independent students” leading the movement]. While it may be questioned if the hokkolorob formula can indeed be replicated in Presidency or elsewhere and that too in this specific instance, the very formula must also be subjected to more rigorous analysis. As noted above, there was a significant lack of conceptual clarity on matters that had a direct bearing on whether a person would be seen as an associate or an adversary of the movement, thereby raising questions about the democratic credentials of the movement. Furthermore, the very idea that the removal of a VC is politically significant needs to be questioned. While there is no doubt that it has a symbolic value, reality is not entirely created by symbolism. The underlying political structures that curbs democracy and perpetuates other sorts of inequalities and exploitations would hardly be affected by the removal of a VC. It is not that a socialist revolution is being expected, but lack of a genuinely political engagement with the status quo instead of merely reducing it to one person or office seems problematic. Continue reading Contextualizing the Ongoing Presidency Agitation
Continued from Part 1
Another aspect of the hokkolorob movement that needs some special attention is the desperation that was visible to defame the vice chancellor at any cost. This was most starkly evident from the way the vice chancellor was being targeted for his alleged plagiarism. It is not entirely irrelevant here to point out that according to newspaper reports, India has a very high percentage of plagiarism in research work. So even if the VC was indeed guilty of this crime, it was hardly something that can be pinned on him entirely. Let us not forget that there is a very stifling atmosphere for most students in this country, both in terms of lack of academic freedom as well as the need to start earning quickly, as there is no social security. Even as we speak, many researchers around the country are protesting against the delay by the government in implementing the long overdue increments in scholarships. So plagiarism is an issue that has deeper socio economic implications and hence deserves a more serious and less populist engagement than the one that was seen during the hokkolorob movement.
Teachers of Durgapur BCET and BCETW had been protesting for several months against the unfair termination of 92 of them, whose only fault was raising their voice collectively against the injustices meted out to them as well as their colleagues by an administration which was outright fascistic in its approach. This movement had been receiving sporadic media attention but it was brought to the spotlight only when the teachers decided to take the radical step of “occupying” the WBUT campus in Salt Lake, followed by an indefinite hunger strike right in front of the office of the VC of WBUT. The participants of the movement had evidently been inspired by the Hokkolorob movement and they thought they could pressurize the government or the university to take action. Also, notably, it was only when news spread that “students of Jadavpur and Presidency” have come in support of the movement, that the media started taking some interest. The fact that the number of students from either of these institutions was actually lesser compared to the number of those from other institutions [including teachers from other private colleges offering solidarity] was never highlighted. Also, it was quite evident that not only the leadership but the rest of the protesters from BCET too seemed to depend overtly on a particular student leader who has become a face of student politics of the “third kind” in Kolkata. The teachers involved in the movement had a derogatory attitude towards the students. For them, the students who study in these private engineering colleges are no good, because they are not intelligent enough and hence do not come forward to protest. This, even though the students had actually shown solidarity with the terminated teachers and were facing the wrath of the management themselves. Apart from the elitism, another incident exposed the extremely narrow classist mindset of some of the teachers in the movement. Continue reading Recent Movements in Kolkata – Some Personal Reflections – Part 2
Unlike some other parts of the country, Kolkata has not seen any major movement for a long time. The last time a significant opposition to the powers that be was initiated was during the Nonadanga slum eviction. In fact, ever since the “paribartan” government came to power, Hokkolorob movement emanating from Jadavpur University was the only major unrest in the city that caught both the headlines and the imagination of the people of this city and indeed beyond. Of course, if we consider the entire state, several movements have been constantly taking place. The Kamduni post rape unrest which took a sharp anti government turn, the ongoing protests at Lumtex Jute Mill and several other jute mills like Victoria, Bhadreswar; the Viswa Bharati students’ movement against removal of internal quota, protest by Durgapur BCET teachers, TET scam protests, Saradha chit fund protests, SSC candidates’ protests against corruption to name a few. In a series of essays, I will be focusing on three of these protests – Hokkolorob, Durgapur BCET and SSC movements. The emphasis will be on those aspects which have generally escaped mainstream attention.
Continue reading Recent Movements in Kolkata – Some Personal Reflections – Part 1