The arrest of Abhishek Mukherjee, an alleged Maoist leader who was once presumed dead, has re-ignited a debate on how deep a link exists between Maoists and students and teachers of various institutes, particularly Jadavpur University where Abhishek studied.
Police have frequently described Jadavpur University as the nucleus of a group of students, many of whom are in the ranks of the CPI-Maoist and now under arrest. Abhishek is said to have told police about students and professors who became members of the CPI-Maoist and who fund Maoist activities inside the university. “He has named two senior professors with whom he used to work as secretary of the Maoists’ city committee. The professors used to publish Maoist documents for students and for distribution among people,” said a senior official of the Special Task Force that arrested Abhishek.
He said Abhishek has revealed that the professors published a magazine, Bandi Barta, helped by a group of students. The magazine is supposedly distributed in select places and among students of two other universities, Presidency and Kalyani. Abhishek has reportedly said also that the Maoists’ Kolkata city committee now has 14 members, all but three or four of them former students of Jadavpur University.
The city committee had been dissolved in 2011 after the new government came to power, the ground being that the ruling party might have planted moles. When it was restructured, Abhishek is said to have been made secretary, a post he had held in 2010 too.
The news of his supposed death was apparently a strategy to keep him out of the security radar. In March 2010, an encounter took place in Junglemahal. Kishenji was believed to have been present and sustained a bullet injury too. One piece of information that the police received was that a Jadavpur University student has been part of the squad and he too had sustained injuries. As the police speculated if that student was Abhishek, the Maoists are said to have used it to their advantage. Abhishek’s name and photographs were put up in the “martyrs list” of the CPI-Maoists that was published in May 2010 in an information bulletin, meant for circulation inside the party and frontal organisations but which eventually reached the police. “It was a strategic move and the Maoists succeeded, until Abhishek was spotted again in a secret meeting with students at Jadavpur University,” said a senior police official.
Now, Abhishek is said to have revealed that the central committee has started making fresh inroads into Presidency and Kalyani universities. In the 1970s, when Presidency was a college, it was known as a Naxal hub. Even today, 12 of its students are aiding rebels, said officers in the anti-Naxalite squad.
In 2004, Abhishek took the lead role against the JU authorities’ decision to expel five student protesters. In 2005, Abhishek and other students started a hunger-strike and formed the Forum for Arts Students, known as an “ultra-Left” student body with considerable influence on the campus. By 2006, he is said to have developed “very close ties” with Left extremists. He never completed his postgraduation in international relations.
In the past, former Jadavpur University students including Debolina Chakraboty and Abhigyan have been jailed because of alleged links with Maoists. At least a dozen students are still under the scanner.
“We cannot see any overground Naxal activity on the campus,” said Keshab Bhattcharya, secretary of the Jadavpur Univeristy Teacher’s Association. “However, campuses are always the site of student movements and teachers don’t interfere in their politics. We can only try to ensure that the academic environment does not suffer for student politics. And our students have always been politically more conscious than students in other universities.”
Amit Bhattcharya, a Jadavpur University professor who had been under the scanner of the police for his ultra-left views, said, “Jadavpur University has a history of student movements but now police are more active on the campus than students. Plainclothesmen are roaming around and questioning departmental heads on Naxal activities. This is intolerable. They proposed to set up police camps but we protested.”
On the campus is the United Social Democratic Front, said to be a front for Maoists. It has more than 150 members from departments including engineering, history, industrial relations and English. According to university sources, around 50 of them work as “part-time” members of the CPI (Maoist) in various other frontal organisations.