It happened in the nineties. Professor M.N. Vijayan, one of the most prominent Leftist thinkers in Kerala, was addressing a gathering of SFI leaders who were sitting smug after capturing most of the university and college campuses in the state. “When all students in a campus become SFI, we need to understand that there is something wrong...,'' he told them.
Those words sound prophetic now, considering the current plight of SFI, the student's wing affiliated to the CPI(M). The SFI, which still dominates almost majority of the college campuses in the state, has put the CPI(M) running for cover, as the violent and corrupt face of the student's wing has been exposed.
It all began with a song. The venue was the canteen of the University College, Thiruvananthapuram, which is entirely dominated by the SFI and Left-affiliated teachers. Incidentally, it is also one of the most sought-after government colleges in the state.
Akhil, a final year political science student, also an active member of the SFI, sang a popular film song sitting in the canteen of college, barely 200 metres from the state secretariat. The singing, however, was not appreciated by a female SFI unit secretary. Next day, Akhil, a popular face in the campus, again sang the same song sitting under a neem tree, and he was being cheered on by his friends. A group of SFI unit members asked him to stop. Akhil refused and a scuffle ensued. The brawl ended with SFI unit president Sivaranjit stabbing Akhil in the upper abdomen as Nazeem, SFI unit secretary, held his hands.
Akhil, whose both parents are CPI(M) followers, was rushed to the hospital and is now recuperating in the Medical College. The police has arrested the accused, all known SFI activists.
If the story had ended there, it would have only revealed the violent face of the SFI unit in the University college. But it was not to be so.
The story took a turn as more details about Sivaranjit, the prime accused, emerged. He had just cleared the Kerala Public Service Commission (KPSC) exam for recruitment of police constables with first rank. The second accused, Nazeem, also had cleared the test and stood 28th in the list and both were expecting posting shortly.
There was much hue and cry over how the SFI activist, who rarely attended any classes topped the KPSC exams. As it raised questions about the credibility of the KPSC, it was revealed that Sivaranjit became the topper as he got weightage for participating in state-level sporting events. The KPSC has, meanwhile, suspended the appointment of both the accused and has ordered a vigilance inquiry into the whole selection process. It would also be probing whether the sports certificate submitted by Sivaranjit was original.
The story did not end even there.
The police, which raided the house of Sivaranjit in connection with his arrest, discovered blank answer sheets of the Kerala University and fake rubber stamps in his room. This episode has put the credibility of the exam system of the Kerala University, affecting the future of thousands who study there. Allegations were raised that some teachers in the University College were aware of the malpractices that were going on in the campus. An inquiry has been ordered into this incident as well.
The incident has turned the capital city into a war zone with student's wing of all political parties hitting the street. They had complaints against the unilateral domination of the SFI in the University College.
“The SFI may call out big slogans about freedom of expression and democracy. But the fact of the matter is that SFI is a fascist organisation. It never lets any students wing function in the campuses dominated by them,'' alleged K.M. Abhijeet, KSU state president.
Similar criticism was made by Shamseer Ibrahim, the leader of Fraternity Movement, affiliated to the SDPI, a Muslim political organisation. “The SFI never allowed us to open a unit in the University College till now. But we have decided to fight against the unilateral domination of the SFI,'' said Ibrahim. According to him, SFI is scared of “opposing voices”.
The SFI, after the initial jolt, did act fast and dismissed the SFI unit in the University College. SFI national president V.P. Sanu profusely apologised for the misdeed too. “I hand my head in shame.. I apologise to the people of Kerala,'' he wrote on his Facebook page. Many CPI(M) leaders, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Speaker Sreeramakrishnan, criticised the happenings in the SFI in harsh words and apologised as a former SFI activist.
“The SFI has always been a corrective force in the campuses and had been the voice of voiceless students. It should be alert not to loose that character and must do course correction immediately,'' former Rajya Sabha MP P. Rajeev told THE WEEK.
But the damage is already done.
Opposition parties are tearing into the Left government. Former chief minister Oommen Chandy, ridiculing that the “first accused is first rank holder”, blamed the parent party for all the wrongdoings of the SFI. “The main culprits are the CPI(M) leaders who train the students to become goons so that they can be used,'' he said.
The “fascist” tendencies of the SFI is the talk of the town now.
“We all have been victims of the SFI domination. Leave out functioning of other political parties, we are not even allowed to think freely without the approval of the SFI. We are thankful that this incident has brought the real character of SFI out in public,'' said a second year student of the University College, who did not want to be named. “I have to study here for one more year."
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Leader of Save University College Forum M. Shajar Khan alleged that there are gross human rights violations happening in the University College. “It is as if you cannot enter the gates of the University College if you are not a SFI follower. Nobody else has a right to exist in that college and naturally every student becomes a SFI follower as s/he has to study there,'' he said.
Khan, an alumni, says the scene inside the college had been the same even in the eighties when he studied. “But then, the SFI attacked only their political opponents. But now they have started attacking their own,'' he said pointing out the fact that Akhil comes from a family of staunch CPI(M) supporters.
He also blamed the teachers in the University College, who are mostly affiliated to the CPI(M), for the current mess. “Without the tacit support of the teachers, the University College, which has a great history, will not degrade like this,'' he said.
Incidentally, University College, established in 1866 by the then Travancore Maharaja Ayilyam Thirunal, has several famous alumni, including former president K.R. Narayanan, G. Madhavan Nair, T.P. Sreenivasan and film director Priyadarshan.
But Rajesh Kumar, a professor in Sanskrit Department, counters the allegation. “Our college has 18th rank nationally in the NIRF list of best colleges prepared by the HRD ministry and first in Kerala. If the academic environment in the University College is as bad as is being alleged by many now, do you think this achievement is possible,'' he asked.
But then how do these misdeeds happen?
“Yes, we admit that there had been lapses and the SFI has gone overboard. But this is a one-off incident which is being used to attack the SFI and college,'' he said.
The “lapses'', however, has been taken seriously by Governor P. Sathasivam. He has asked the government to submit a detailed report on the incident.