On 11 July this year, when some half a dozen Students Federation of India (SFI) members a fellow student, Akil Chandran, inside the Kerala University campus in Thiruvananthapuram, little did they realise they were opening a Pandora’s box.
Chandran, a final-year political science under-graduate student, was stabbed following a dispute within the SFI. The political science student and his friends were sitting near a flag post of the federation --- the Communist Party of India, Marxist (CPM) students’ wing --- that rules the roost across campuses in Kerala’s universities. The rival group asked him to move away from the flag post but he refused to budge. That resulted in his rivals using the opportunity to stab him.
Kerala police filed cases against at least seven SFI activists and named SFI leaders, R Sivaranjith and A N Nazeem, as the prime accused. All the accused have been arrested but matters did not stop with the police nabbing them. The fallout of the intra-SFI rivalry has now led to many skeletons tumbling out of CPM’s and, particularly, the federation’s cupboards.
The intra-SFI rivalry has reminded people of how the SFI top-rung leadership behaves. It has also rekindled bitter memories of how the SFI has behaved at various campuses over the last few years. More importantly, the attack on Chandran has exposed how SFI members are favoured for recruitment by the Kerala Public Service Commission (PSC) for government jobs.
After Sivaranjith and Nazeem were arrested, the local media came out with reports that both have secured ranks in the PSC civil police officers’ exam. While Sivaranjith topped the ranking, Nazeem was ranked 28th. Their ranking has come under scrutiny after both their academic records were made public by the Malayalam media.
Sivaranjith hasn’t cleared his Master’s degree in political science despite appearing twice for it. Nazeem flopped in both attempts in his first semester exams pursuing a Master’s degree in philosophy. Their educational records make one suspect the PSC ranking they have secured in the police exam.
Sivaranjith got zero in the Logic written paper in the first semester, got just four marks in Classical Indian Philosophy and 6.5 for Western Philosophy. When he reappeared, he got 13, 12 and 3.5 marks respectively in the three subjects. Nazeem got readmitted to the Master’s course in Philosophy after flunking twice in the first semester.
Police recovered Kerala University answer sheets from Sivaranjith’s premises, leading to allegations of fraud against the SFI leadership, in the varsity exams. However, CPM leader, A Vijayaraghavan, has dismissed the allegations, saying that the answer sheets were just empty sheets of paper. The state Governor, P Sathasivam, has asked the Kerala University Vice-Chancellor to submit a report of its probe into the allegations of exam fraud by the SFI leaders.
All this has now brought the focus onto SFI’s role in Kerala universities and how its leaders are being favoured by the CPM leadership for state government jobs. The SFI reared its head in Kerala university campuses in the last two decades. This led to the easing out of the Kerala Students Union --- the students’ wing of the Congress through which leaders like A K Antony emerged.
SFI got entrenched in the campuses as its cadre always got preference for appointments as government staff. This began when the CPM was in power during 2006 – 2011. Initially, SFI leaders got priority in recruitment as assistants in universities every year.
The more lethal the SFI leaders were in doing the bidding of their top leadership in the state, the greater was their chance to get appointments. When Malayala Manorama exposed how CPM favoured SFI leaders for such recruitment, the PSC was asked to handle all such appointments.
The present expose of SFI is seen as an indirect fight between two CPM factions --- one belonging to Kerala Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, and the other owing allegiance to the former chief minister, V S Achuthanandan. The intra-SFI rivalry has made many senior CPM leaders unhappy, and probably that is what has led to so many SFI skeletons tumbling out.
SFI has always been viewed as an unruly organisation in the campuses. Anyone daring to question them has often been harassed or ridiculed. In May this year, a 19-year-old girl pursuing her BSc in Chemistry attempted to commit suicide by slashing her wrists. She was allegedly harassed by SFI members to take part in a protest and she had complained that the federation disrupted colleges for political protests.
The Kerala police, instead of enquiring into the complaint against SFI, questioned only the girl, who finally did a U-turn and said she had no complaint against anyone. On 29 March this year, Kanhangad Nehru Arts and Science College principal, P V Pushpaja, experienced a bizarre send off on her retirement. SFI activists in the college put up a poster paying homage “to the principal who had died”, while some other members burst crackers to celebrate her retirement.
Such behaviour brought to people’s mind other such atrocities committed by SFI earlier. For instance, in April 2016, students belonging to SFI took out a “symbolic funeral” of Palakkad Government Victoria College’s retiring principal, T N Sarasu. In January 2017, SFI cadre burnt the chair of the Ernakulam Maharaja College principal. All these principals were strict disciplinarians and had often locked horns with the federation leaders.
The intra-SFI rivalry and its fallout has now resulted in opposition parties like the Congress demanding a thorough probe into the affairs of the PSC. With more reports coming out questioning the PSC rankings, opposition parties are demanding that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) look into the whole issue of recruitment by the PSC.
Moreover, other SFI activities have also come under scrutiny. No doubt, the organisation is being criticised for being unruly. But critics now point out as to how goons rule the roost in the organisation and how the students are exploited in many ways. Even girl students are not spared from harassment.
Of late, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and Campus Front of India (CFI) --- a student arm of the pro-Islamic Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) --- are witnessing a surge in support from the student community. More importantly, after nearly 18 years the KSU is back on the Kerala university campuses.
Chief Minister Vijayan has dismissed the allegations against PSC and SFI as “part of the larger agenda of globalisation to destroy the credibility of public institutions.” But the fact of the matter is that the intra-SFI rivalry has only left the ground further shaky for the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala after it was drubbed in the Lok Sabha polls, winning just one of the 20 seats at stake.
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