Some IIM-C staff members say the BJP misled them into attending the event in the guise of resolving a decades-old administrative issue.
New Delhi: A political storm is brewing at the Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta after news reports claimed that over 100 staff and faculty members had formally joined the Bharatiya Janata Party at a public function hosted by the saffron party on March 26.
Days later, the veracity of the reports is being debated by employees of the prestigious institute. At least three staff members who were present at the event and whom The Wire spoke to said the news reports are based on half-truths. They also claimed that around 40 employees joined the saffron party, that too “reluctantly”, after having been taken misleadingly by BJP activists to the function.
“Some of us went to the function to seek help from the BJP regarding an administrative matter that has been troubling the IIM employees for many years. We did not know that it was a membership drive by the party,” said one official who attended the event but refused to speak on the record.
The administrative matter the staff member spoke about is an issue that the employees’ federation in the institute has been raising consistently over the last few years.
Following a government notification in the late 1980s, IIM-C staff members, like all other centrally-funded educational institutes, were given an option to migrate from the erstwhile contributory provident fund (CPF) scheme to the general provident fund (GPF) scheme, which was introduced back then.
However, a combination of administrative lag and confusion among staff members meant many members were stuck within the CPF scheme. Unlike the GPF, the CPF neither accounted for inflationary allowances nor had an improved pension structure.
Since then, many serving and retired staff members have been demanding that they be given a chance to migrate to the new scheme. The employees’ federation has also been pursuing the case in court.
“A few BJP supporters on campus assured us that their party might be able to help us in getting this issue resolved. We thought since it is the ruling party and is in a position to influence the matter, there is no harm in meeting their leaders. But as it turned out, we were deceived into joining the party,” said a staff member, who asked not to be named.
“A majority of those who attended the BJP function were retired officials of the institute,” he said.
What seems to have triggered the debate within the IIM-C staff community since then is that the saffron party chose to hide the more important administrative grievance while gloating over the unprecedented gain they have made at the institute.
BJP leaders have claimed that the staff members joined the party out of despair and disillusionment with the Trinamool Congress government and the main opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist), and that they perceived the BJP as the only “clean” and “development-oriented” party in West Bengal.
Moreover, the party has portrayed the event as one that reflected the political mood among the intellectuals of Bengal.
Dilip Ghosh, state BJP president, who was present at the event, claimed that the teachers had joined the party because they had “lost faith in the Trinamool Congress government” and wanted to be a part of the “development work” ushered in “by Modiji”.
When The Wire asked him about the event, Ghosh said he could not confirm the exact number of IIM staff members who joined the party but estimates the number to be “around 100”.
“How does it matter whether 100 people joined or not? What is important is that the event was unprecedented. Even if, say, 10 people joined, never have intellectuals of the state espoused a party like this. These are people who had never supported any party. The university professors who support the CPI (M) are party cadres – who were party members even when they were students and landed plush jobs because CPI (M) was in power. The IIM staff members, however, chose BJP because they also want to contribute to the development work Modiji has initiated,” he told The Wire.
While the number of people who joined the party has become a bone of contention at IIM-C, the staff members also refuted Ghosh’s claim that intellectuals have started veering towards the BJP. They said that only two serving faculty members joined the party at the event, while the others included two retired faculty members and mostly non-academic staff, with the total number a far cry from the 100 claimed.
“One faculty member in IIM-C, Ambuj Mahanti, who retires on 31 March, was the primary mobiliser for the event. As he is a known BJP leader, he promised most staff members help from the party on the pension issue,” said another employee who attended the event.
Ghosh confirmed that Mahanti got the IIM-C staff members to the BJP fold. Mahanti had also contested the 2016 parliamentary by-poll in Tamluk constituency on a BJP ticket.
Speaking to The Wire, Mahanti said, “Although I am apolitical in nature, I and many other in the IIM joined the BJP because they think it is the best choice. Intellectuals are definitely in favour of a change in Bengal. I got the staff members, both serving and retired, to join the party. Bengal has never had a government which is non-corrupt.”
While Mahanti painted the event as a despair-driven step taken by the intellectuals, he refrained from pointing out the administrative grievances which appear to be the actual trigger.
“It is clear that the BJP leaders are trying to get disproportionate political advantage out of the event. They want to project a new surge among intellectuals of Bengal in favour of the BJP, while the truth is that people who joined the party feel deceived,” said a staff member.
The controversy within the IIM-C campus has escalated to such an extent that the Indian Express, which was the first newspaper to report the induction of new members, issued a retraction after Prashant Mishra, a faculty member who was quoted in the report, denied having attended the function or even talking to the daily.
“I got to know about the function only after I read the report. I immediately wrote to the newspaper, which did well to issue a retraction. The statement was wrongly quoted to me,” Mishra told The Wire.
With IIM-C set to hold its convocation ceremony on April 1, the issue has polarised the campus.