Kolkata, April 6 (IANS) The death of a student leader in police custody has emerged as a major political issue in West Bengal, with the opposition Left Front going the whole hog to pin the Mamata Banerjee government on it. But the plucking off of a young life in its prime has generated a larger debate on the nature of student politics and its spinoff violence in a state high on unemployment.
Sudipta Gupta, a 24-year-old promising leader of Communist Party of India-Marxist's (CPI-M) student wing Students Federation of India (SFI), died Tuesday after his arrest for participating in a protest programme against the state government's decision to stall student council elections in colleges for six months.
His comrades alleged that the youth died while being taken to jail by bus after being mercilessly beaten by police with batons that resulted in his head crashing against a lamppost but Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has claimed it was an accident.
"The death is unfortunate. It is an accident. It is not police atrocity," Banerjee said in Bangalore. But she has courted a fresh controversy by dismissing the incident as a "small" and "petty" matter.
Gupta's family members reacted in disgust. Asserting that he was "murdered", they demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe.
"Our chief minister does not know how to react to such situations... Would she have made a similar comment had my brother been a Trinamool Congress worker?" said Gupta's elder sister Sumita Sengupta.
His father Pranab - a retired government employee - who has been distraught since losing his only son, demanded Banerjee step down from the chair for her insensitive comments. "We have no faith in her," said the 63 year old grieving man.
The CPI-M, which has launched massive statewide protests after Gupta's death, said the chief minister was "prejudging the matter" and trying to influence police.
"Police is asking the media not to jump into any conclusion, but the chief minister has already done so," said Leader of Opposition in assembly Surjya Kanta Mishra.
The political duel apart, the tragic incident has brought to the fore the wider issue of the direction and mode of student politics in the state, where campus violence - a prevalent scene across the country in the 1960s and 1970s - is still not uncommon.
Many academicians and individuals have been advocating a ban on politics in colleges and universities - a view that has often been shared by the incumbent Education Minister Bratya Basu, and the six-month bar on student elections is seen as a step towards bringing down political temperature in the campus.
The decision was taken in the aftermath of the violence centering a college union election in the city's Garden Reach area where a policeman lost his life while trying to separate clashing students.
"The authorities should not allow formation of unions in any college," said noted painter Samir Aich.
Veteran educationists like Sunanda Sanyal feel the students should be left to devote all their time and energy to studies. "If they don't study well, how do they get jobs? Already we have a huge unemployed workforce."
But the student leaders disagree.
"If politics determines your education, you must determine the politics. So many people, who have shone in various fields in later life, including in administrative and police services, had been prominent student leaders in their college and university days. There is no harm in getting involved in politics as a student. It only makes you socially conscious," said SFI all India general secretary Ritabrata Bandopadhyay.
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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