Pappu's posting becomes a cause celebre

Kolkata, Sep 10 (IANS) Pappu could have easily passed off as just another face in the crowd. But not any more. The Mamata Banerjee government's decision to transfer the gatekeeper of Kolkata's famous Presidency University has led to howls of protest from students and alumni, as also academicians.

While the West Bengal government claims the step is in sync with service rules, the protestors are crying foul. Allegations are being made loud and clear that Santosh Singh, alias Pappu, is paying the price for identifying activists of the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad (TMCP), the student wing of West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress, said to be involved in vandalising the university April 10.

The dissenting voices point out that transfer of a Group D staffer was unheard of in at least the last 100 years of the Presidency College, which was elevated to a university by the erstwhile Left Front government in 2010.

They also argue that by shifting Pappu, who joined Presidency 15 years ago, to the Jahargram Raj College, 220 km away in West Midnapore district, the government has only demonstrated its vindictiveness.

Pappu had played a prominent role in identifying the rowdies who vandalised the Presidency University, including its historic Baker laboratory April 10, a day after state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Finance Minister Amit Mitra were allegedly heckled April 9 by a group of Students Federation of India activists in New Delhi.

Facing all-round flak after the vandalism, Industries Minister and Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee had then termed the allegations against TMCP a "conspiracy" and claimed that Pappu - who earlier served as an election agent of a CPI-M MP - was involved.

"We have told the police that Pappu is involved. He has to be arrested and the truth unearthed," Chatterjee had said.

Pappu was quizzed time and again by the police, but the teachers, students and alumni came out in his support.

Pappu's family has had a sentimental bond spanning three generations with the celebrated institution. His grandfather, Ram Iqbal Singh, died while standing guard at the gates of the Presidency College during the 1926 riots. Pappu's father also served as presidency gatekeeper for years.

Students came out of the classroom and launched a protest when an official served the transfer order on Pappu and three others.

""We will continue our stir till we get a positive response from the minister and the officials that the transfer order will not be executed. We love Pappuda; we will not let him go," said a student leader.

Bivas Chowdhury, general secretary of the Presidency University Alumni Association, said Pappu and his family are part of the institution's heritage.

"He has friendly relations with all - students, teachers, alumni, non-teaching staff - irrespective of political colour. Removing him is akin to harming that heritage. If such a thing happens, the Alumni Association will protest," said Chowdhury.

Former Presidency College principal and noted political scientist Amal Mukhopadhyay lashed out against the Trinamool government.

"I have never heard of a Group D staff being transferred without any fault of his own. They are shifted when they seek transfers voluntarily or as a punishment. But Pappu has neither opted for transfer nor done anything wrong. I think the transfer is politically motivated," Mukhopadhyay maintained.

Students even took the social networking route against the transfer.

"After April 10, there is another attack on Presidency with the government issuing a transfer order to Pappuda. To every 10th April, there is an 11th. Let the response be equally loud this time," read an angry Facebook post.

Sensing the overall sentiment, Vice Chancellor Malabika Sarkar wrote to Education Minister Bratya Basu requesting that the transfer order be cancelled. The university did not issue the release order till the weekend in view of the protests.

But Basu was adamant, and saw no merit in the protests.

"There are 45 government colleges in West Bengal. And the Group D staff are regularly transferred. I don't even keep track of such transfers. But such transfers are part of the government service rules and everybody has to abide by that," said the minister.

Pappu seemed confused. "I don't know what I will do. But I thank the students - both current and former - for standing by me".

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at s.panth@ians.in)

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