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Girl Mamata called 'Maoist' wants to join the system

Last updated on: March 6, 2013 12:30 IST

Girl Mamata called 'Maoist' wants to join the system

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Sumit Bhattacharya

Taniya Bhardwaj, who West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had called a Maoist sympathiser on television, wants to become a civil servant. But for now, like generations of bright young Kolkatans before her, she is readying to leave her city, finds Sumit Bhattacharya

Taniya Bhardwaj is getting ready to leave the city she was born in, the city she loves.

The recent graduate with first class in political science from Presidency College -- which Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's administration has upgraded to a university -- has decided to do her master's in development from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

The chief minister had called Bhardwaj, 22, a Maoist sympathiser before walking off a meet-the-students television programme on CNN-IBN last year. Bhardwaj had asked her about the Park Street rape case.

But Bhardwaj -- who studied at Calcutta Girls' High School, goes to a neighbourhood retired professor's house for points to study for debates and parties equally hard with friends -- says she wants 'to join the system'.

After her master's, the avid debater wants to become 'either an Indian Administrative Service or Indian Police Service' officer.

She wants to serve "either in Bengal or Bihar. Because my family is (originally) from Bihar, and I have lived all my life in Bengal. So taan ta duidikei achhey (both places tug at my heart). "

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Image: Taniya Bhardwaj
Photographs: Photo courtesy: Taniya Bhardwaj
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'Everyone who can tries to get out of Kolkata'

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A refrain for most bright Kolkata students has remained the same, she says.

"Everyone who can tries to get out -- Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad, Mumbai, anywhere. I have friends in the law school (West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences). They come from all over the country. They like this place for college because it's cheap. But they don't want to settle down here after graduating. Because they say there are no opportunities here."

The exodus, argues another man who has returned to the city after studying at a top global university on a prestigious scholarship and after working elsewhere in India, is limited to corporate sector workers.

Most of West Bengal's graduates want to get into the School Service Commission, then they want to become college teachers, he says, followed by government services. The 'brain drain', he says, is limited to the elite colleges such as Presidency.

He also points to a few people returning to the city after stints abroad and that at least one Presidency alumnus has returned from Oxford to teach at his alma mater. And that there are many in the information-technology hub at Sector V in suburban Saltlake who have come back to Kolkata after stints abroad.

He does not want to be identified, but agrees with Bhardwaj that Kolkata has become more unsafe, especially for women.

Bhardwaj says that late at night even the cops harass women. "Their logic is women should not be out at night. That's the way my mum thinks! Lock them all up in houses!"

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Image: Taniya Bhardwaj (second from left)
Photographs: Photo courtesy: Taniya Bhardwaj
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'They on paper want to do a lot of good things'

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Almost Hermione Granger-ish, to borrow a Harry Potter character, Bhardwaj has barely finished college and is working as a research assistant with another celeb alumnus of her college, historian-turned-cricket commentator Boria Majumdar, on an archiving project.

Bhardwaj wants to give the Mamata Banerjee administration credit where due.

"Last year there was this huge bandh but life was almost normal," she says. "That's when I started respecting this government. They on paper want to do a lot of good things. You want to give them credit because they've come after a really long time and some change is better than no change at all. But then they haven't been very different."

The day Banerjee came to power, Bhardwaj continues, "she gave a speech about how she abhors college politics. Next day, I go to college and I see a big poster saying: 'Join Trinanmool Congress Chhatra Parishad (students' wing of Banerjee's party), be a part of the change'."

Elections in Presidency -- and all educational institutions across West Bengal -- have been put on hold after a police officer was shot dead as student groups clashed during elections at Harimohan Ghose College in the Kolkata suburb of Garden Reach last month. Television footage showed a Trinamool legislator standing beside the man who fired at the police officer.

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Image: Boys play cricket on the deserted streets of Kolkata during a bandh
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'Nothing has changed. Just a different set of people making money'

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State Education Minister Bratya Basu -- who is reportedly finalising a plan to delink student bodies from political parties -- refused to meet a Presidency students' delegation demanding elections.

Student politics in Bengal has always been violently politicised. In the late 1990s, Presidency was one of the few colleges with an elected student's union that was not under the Student's Federation of India, a wing of the state's then ruling coalition leader Communist Party of India-Marxist. SFI goons would regularly rough up independent candidates in Presidency before students' union elections. The run-up to the Left Front government's defeat was also marked by bloody battles on campuses in the state.

Bhardwaj, who voted in her first year in college, says the political atmosphere becomes charged before union elections. But by third year, students 'had stopped caring', till election time neared again before being suspended after the Garden Reach incident.

She says the changes in Kolkata are "just surface changes. Nothing has changed. There's just a different set of people making money."

She says she has never faced any repercussion from that television showdown with the chief minister. "No one's come to me and said anything negative about it."

Bhardwaj, who besides debating loves reading (Jane Austen and Haruki Murakami among her favourite writers, though she has not yet read Iq84), insists she will come back after studying abroad.

"I have finished college, but I still feel jealous of the first-years," she grins, declaring that London will not erase her emotional connection to her college and her city.


Image: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee

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