A gaggle of students have gathered in the hallowed central hall of the 200-year-old Sanskrit College & University on Monday, discussing last week’s Calcutta High Court judgement scrapping the appointment of over 24,000 school teachers and employees in the State in worried, hushed tones.

The stately college building, supported by iconic pillars on all sides, where once the social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, taught, is at one end of Kolkata’s College Square, around which are the city’s historic educational landmarks: Presidency College, Calcutta Medical College, Hindu High School, and Calcutta University.

Though the myriad student bodies whose graffiti dot the walls of the colleges have all (except the Trinamool Chatra Parsihad) condemned the “durniti” (corruption) of the ruling TMC for the alleged cash-for-jobs scam, all of them are also united in demanding a rollback of the judgement so that the “innocent” 19,000 plus school employees whose jobs have been scrapped for the unfair means used by 5,300 others can be reinstated.

Recruitment scam

The State’s school service commission had appointed over 24,000 people as teachers, assistant teachers, and school administrative staff in 2016. Raids on a TMC education minister, his aide, and some School Selection Commission (SSC) officials two years ago yielded huge piles of cash. A probe ordered soon afterwards unearthed that some 5,300 people had submitted manipulated test papers or did not even figure in the list of successful candidates and yet had been given jobs by the school commission. The Calcutta High Court last week passed an order scrapping all SSC appointments made in 2016.

Leftist unions are mobilising students from across the area to start yet another march protesting the court’s decision. “We are worried. We, too, will give exams to get jobs. If someone cheats in that exam and all students are later punished by scrapping their jobs, then where will we go?” asked Abhipsa Chakraborti, 21, a student of MA English at the Sanskrit University, and in her own words, “from a Leftist family.”

The College Square is where most student demonstrations have started, whether they sought to oust British rule or protest America’s napalm bombing of Vietnam, food shortages in the country, or a rise in tram fares.

Student power is important in a State where some 27 per cent of the total population of 91 million are in the age group of 20-34. And jobs are a huge issue for the youth, as unemployment for the age group 15-29 in urban areas of West Bengal stood at 12.7 per cent according to the annual periodic labour force survey for 2022-23.

Said Saira Shah Halim, CPI (M) leader and candidate from the South Calcutta seat, “People are fed up with corruption cases that are tumbling out of the cupboard, and our youth wing is working with us to highlight this to voters.”

However, since the scrapping of so many jobs in a State where an industrial decline since the 1970s has meant few new quality jobs are created every year, the sympathy of common people seems to be veering towards those who have lost jobs and not so much against those responsible for the job scam that led to the court judgement.

“Every party is demanding that the scrapping of the entire panel be rescinded. In our system, you are innocent until found guilty,” said Prof. OP Mishra of Jadavpur University and former pro-vice chancellor of Indira Gandhi Open University.

“Obviously, there will be a political fallout from such a decision. Large numbers of people have been affected. Their families have also been impacted,” Mishra added.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has already made it clear that she “will stand by those who have lost their jobs,” and her government is moving the Supreme Court against the High Court’s judgment scrapping the entire 2016 panel.

TMC is banking on people’s reactions to the huge number of job losses to turn attention away from the perception that the party is tainted by corruption. Banerjee and her top leadership have consequently been hammering away, in speech after speech, blaming the BJP for the huge loss of jobs and for denying central funds to Bengal, which could have created public works and jobs.

Souryabrata Maiti, 22, a student of MA History at the Sanskrit College & University, said, “After this judgment throwing out tens of thousands of teachers, we have started asking why there are so many raids and court cases just ahead of an election? We need jobs, and we need all political parties to work for that instead of trying to point fingers at each other.”