Tussle over Bengal universities escalates with Mamata Banerjee’s attack on Governor

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has launched a frontal attack on governor Jagdeep Dhankar following his assertion that the education system in the state was in a “political cage” and accused him of talking like a “political party” and not following his constitutional role.

The latest face off between Banerjee and Dhankar relates to a tussle over state universities. The trigger was provided by the absence of most state university Vice Chancellors from a meeting called by Dhankar on Wednesday to assess the academic situation in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.

“I find there is tightening of this political cage in the education scenario in West Bengal,” Dhankar was quoted as saying by PTI following the absence of VCs from the virtual meet.

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He added that the VCs opposed the meeting “tooth and nail” for “the reasons known to all”.

The chief minister soon launched a counter-attack accusing him of acting like a “political party” representative.

“A governor can’t talk like a political party,” she said, while accusing him of not abiding by the constitution.

“He is not abiding by the Constitution, not following the PM and home ministry,” the agency quoted Banerjee as saying.

She also extended support to the VCs over the issue when asked about Dhankar’s stated intention to seek explanation for their absence.

“We respect VCs, they have our 100 per cent support,” Banerjee said.

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The West Bengal government had recently amended the rules relating to the governor’s power as the chancellor of universities, significantly reducing Raj Bhawan’s role in their functioning.

All communications between the governor and the universities, now, have to be routed through the higher education department of the state as per the revised rules.

Another such meeting called by Dhankar had failed to take off in January this year following the state government’s reported objection to its convening without keeping the government in the loop.

Dhankhar claimed the “unwholesome situation” was the creation of the state government.

Dhankhar accused the government of apathy towards students whose futures were in jeopardy due to the unprecedented crisis. He added that the students were getting increasingly restive with each passing day and that the graduate and postgraduate students needed degrees to pursue further studies and secure suitable jobs through competitions.

“The saddest element in the entire gamut is that they completely forgot the students crisis amidst the pandemic,” he was quoted as saying by PTI.

The tussle also assumes significance in the backdrop of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s recent letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, opposing HRD ministry and UGC guidelines for holding college and university exams by September 2020. She had cited risks to the students from the coronavirus disease and universities’ decision to evaluate students on the basis of previous semesters and internal assessments.

“Denying degrees means denying academic progression and jobs. Degrees cannot be given without evaluation which happens to be in the form of examinations. Exams can be held only when the courses have been completed,” Dhankhar said in an apparent reference to the issue.

Dhankhar said he wanted to know during the meeting what steps the universities intended to take in that direction.

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