The “Occupy UGC” movement launched by students protesting the discontinuation of non-NET fellowships seemed to be losing steam as the week drew to a close.
On Wednesday itself, the leadership of the movement appeared divided over the future course of action. By Friday, not only had the crowd thinned, important matters were far from resolved. It should, however, be noted that students had also been called to protest within JNU itself by the leadership, where a meeting of the Academic Council was on.
Suggestions were made on Wednesday by the students to form a co-ordination committee between different organisations of various universities protesting the withdrawal of the non-NET fellowships. However, it was always going to be a difficult proposition as the leadership of the movement is composed of various Leftist organisations not always see eye to eye on different issues. On Friday, a well-placed AISA source said that the modalities of the co-ordination committee were still to be worked out. The AISA source added that it would be better to focus on only the issue at hand instead of taking up several causes, as suggested by students at a general assembly on Wednesday.
There was also a lack of clarity on where the movement was headed. On Wednesday, after talks broke down for good, the students and the leadership appeared inclined to shift the protest to the Ministry of Human Resource Development. However, on Friday, it became clear that that was an unlikely proposition. “We can’t occupy MHRD as the government will simply not allow that. But we do plan to take a protest march there in the coming week,” said the AISA source.
There has also been some criticism regarding the tactics adopted by the leadership in the movement. Several students suggested that it was a tactical error to go for the barricades placed outside the UGC, which led to a brutal lathi-charge by the police.
“They should have done that, if at all, when they had a larger number of students with them on Monday. It was a folly to do it with only 40 to 50 students on Tuesday,” said a student activist.
Nevertheless, Wednesday saw a closing of ranks by the teachers and students, with faculty members from different universities speaking in favour of the movement. A few students were administered medical treatment following the lathi-charge. Although the police officially denied the action it took on Tuesday, senior cops guarding the UGC told this correspondent that while the lathi-charge had indeed taken place, it was mild. “Many more would have been hospitalised if we had beaten them up as harshly as alleged,” said a senior cop on duty outside the UGC. The police sources added that they were working far longer hours than usual. “Our investigations are also pending as there is no time to pursue them,” they said. The police, following Tuesday’s lathi-charge, arranged for a number of female cops from Wednesday onward. Some students were also of the view that the closing of the ranks was a direct result of ABVP bagging the post of joint secretary in the JNUSU this year; its presidential candidate gave a tough fight as well. This was alluded to in his speech on Wednesday by JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar.
Meanwhile, the ABVP claimed that the matter had been resolved and the protests by students was serving no real purpose.
However, Saket Bahuguna, ABVP activist, who had earlier tweeted that the matter had been resolved after a meeting with HRD minister, remained unavailable for comments. The MHRD has been discussing the issue since last year when a meeting of student representatives of central universities was held to discuss parts of the New Education Policy. According to a student representative who attended it, the matter was raised again this year in September at the second meeting. However, on both occasions, Minister Smriti Irani expressed her inability to continue with the scheme, according to the source.