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November 19, 1998


'Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has ruined my life'

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Jaipur

Dasrath Chaudhary, 24, a post-graduate student of Sanskrit, is going to Bali to help the election campaign against Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

He is one of the students who has finished his National Eligibility Test and is just waiting for his results, after which he can seek a job with the University Grants Commission.

However, thanks to the ongoing crisis in the Rajasthan University, due to which his papers were not corrected, he is jobless and faces an uncertain future.

"Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has ruined my life. As the chief minister, he has played with the future of nearly 200,000 students," says Chaudhary. "And that's why I am going to Bali with my friends, to support his nearest rival so that Shekhawat can be defeated." And the disgruntled friends number 10.

But their grouse has to be explained in detail: The class III and IV non-teaching staff of the 140 colleges of the Rajasthan University went on strike in March after then vice- chancellor O Rajagopalan decided bonus could not paid for the year owing to a lack of funds.

With great difficulty, Rajgopalan got the exams conducted in July with help from some members of the non-teaching staff and other government officials.

But the real trouble began after the exams were finished with. The class III and class IV workers refused to hand over the students' answer sheets to the teachers for correction.

The state government and the then governor, Darbara Singh, did nothing to resolve the problem. The strike continued and the results were delayed indefinitely.

On November 9, the situation went out of hand and one of the final year BA students, Nishant Bharadwaj, set himself afire before the vice-chancellor's office. Four days later, the boy succumbed to the injuries at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.

"There will be more cases like Nishant if the government does not declare the results soon. The students are desperately trying to seek admission in other colleges or are hunting for jobs," said Surendra Motasara, an MA sociology student from Jhunjhunu.

"My father is paying my fees with great difficulty. Now another year will go to waste. I just don't know what to do and where to go," he says.

Shekhawat has been facing flak on this front right from the time he appointed R N Singh, a controversial vice-chancellor in 1994.

Students feel Singh was appointed at the behest of former prime minister Chandra Shekhar, a good friend of Shekhawat. Singh was appointed because he was from the same village as Chandra Shekhar, Balia.

Singh appointed nearly 130 lecturers and 400 class III and class IV employees who were unproductive and unnecessary additions.

According to Sunil Bansal, state organising secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the students wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, "The whole problem began when Singh took over as the vice-chancellor. Singh, in order to please his cronies, started paying bonus to the staff."

Soon irregularities began creeping up in the university's functioning. Finally, in 1997, there was a scandal about the post-graduate exams, when 75 'undeserving students' passed and an inquiry was set up.

"Singh quit, but the government did not take any action against him despite there being evidence against him," says Bansal.

What has peeved students most is the fact that neither Shekhawat nor Education Minister Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi visited Nishant in hospital or the university after the incident. Even the ABVP has expressed its displeasure, refusing to campaign for the BJP and spending more time on its 50th anniversary celebrations in Jaipur on December 2.

"We are very disappointed with the way Shekhawat handled the students' problems," says Bansal. "And that is why there is no enthusiasm in the ABVP for the BJP in this election," he said.

Bansal says Shekhawat has done a lot of good work, though, like opening 67 new engineering and medical colleges for girls and introducing vocational courses that have helped students.

In January 1997, the state government appointed a new vice-chancellor, O Rajagopalan, a former IAS officer. He found the coffers of RU were empty and that there was no money for extras like a bonus for non-productive staff. In fact, the university had just enough money to pay the salaries.

The university had also borrowed from banks, for which the community hall and the college building had been mortgaged. Rajagopalan immediately cut down the bonus and the employees went on strike as a result.

RU gets 40 per cent of its aid from the state government and 60 per cent from the UGC. The state government withdrew its aid, stating it would finance the university only after its accounts were cleared and made transparent.

"The BJP is now only interested in the election, and is not at all concerned about the students' future. I am sure the RU students will go against the BJP this time," says Nidhi Shekhar Sharma, a first year student of law.

However, Rajagopalan too resigned after Nishant Bharadwaj died on November 13.

Considering there are not takers for the vice-chancellor's post -- first senior professor of the university A S Kapoor and then former VC T K N Unnithan refused -- former VC of the Maharshi Dayanand University Professor Kanta Ahuja has been roped in. She has been promised full co-operation by the state government.

The state government too tried to play down the trouble by shifting Nishant from Jaipur to New Delhi. And when he died, they did not bring his body to Jaipur though his parents are in Jaipur; they cremated his body in Aligarh, his native place.

"Nishant's life won't go waste. We students will teach Shekhawat and the BJP a lesson," says Chaudhary.

"Had Nishant's body come to Jaipur, there would have been riots," says Alok Roji, a second year MA student in public administration.

Now there are about 40 police personnel at all four gates of the university to keep the place under "observation".

"We are students, not spies, so why does the government want to keep us under observation?" asks Roji.

"We don't need nuclear bombs or Vajpayee's speeches. We need our results so that we can look for jobs and our future," says an angry Surendra, a BJP sympathiser-turned-foe.

There are nearly 25,000 students at Rajasthan University. But not more than 1,000 are visible on Jawaharlal Nehru Marg.

Meanwhile, RU officials say the students will not lose a year.

Says new Registrar Subhash Gara, an IAS officer, "We are extending this year's term till August 15 instead of the first week of July. We will conduct classes on Sundays and, therefore, we are confident we will finish the syllabus in time."

Gara also claims that most undergraduate students have received their results and that only some post-graduate students faced trouble.

But the state government itself believes it has no role to play.

State BJP president Raghuvir Singh Kaushal told Rediff On The NeT, "It is the newly appointed governor, N L Tibbrewal, who has to look into this matter, not us. After all, the RU falls within his jurisdiction."

Assembly Election '98

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