Osmania University Centenary Celebrations Worsen Feud Between Students and KCR

KCR appears to have reneged on key promises made to Osmania students, who played a key role in the Telangana movement.

On April 26, Osmania University celebrated its centenary. Credit: Twitter

Hyderabad: The much awaited and publicised centenary celebrations of Osmania University ended in controversy on Wednesday, April 26, without the customary speeches by the hosts, chancellor and governor E.S.L. Narasimhan and Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR).

The chief guest, President Pranab Mukherjee, finished his speech hurriedly. The entire occasion was tense and lacked the usual revelry. The event wrapped up in a matter of 40 minutes. The vice chancellor welcomed the gathering. The president delivered his speech. The registrar proposed a vote of thanks. And that was that. Instead of being a grand affair, the function ended as a damp squib.

The reason for KCR’s silence at the event is said to be reports that suggested the Osmania student community would raise slogans and disturb his speech at the event, unhappy with his government’s education and employment policy.

When asked about KCR and Narasimhan’s silence, Osmania vice chancellor S. Ramachandram said, “There is absolutely no politics. The celebrations have been a grand success and students have also cooperated fully. I don’t know why they did not speak. We rescheduled the program on instructions from state government and also the Rashtrapati Bhavan.”

Tight security to prevent dissent

In perhaps a first at any educational institution across the country, fingerprint scanning linked with Aadhaar data was used as an entry mechanism for the inauguration of the centenary celebrations of the university.

The varsity, expecting close to 20,000 participants, including alumni, had made online registration mandatory and Aadhaar number was needed for this. The move, whetted by the state intelligence, was aimed at keeping known activists from the BJP, Left parties and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) away. The move was to prevent protests and sloganeering against KCR. City police also said they had rounded up over 100 student activists and had restrained them in their hostel rooms until the VVIPs left campus. Of the 20,000 invitees, only about 4,000 turned up as the entire campus was blocked by the police with barricades everywhere.

A majority of the students were confined to their hostel rooms and a two-tier security cordon was mounted with a deployment of 3,500 police personnel, 150 CCTV cameras and around 500 policemen in mufti in anticipation of top CPI (Maoists) activists, who are also alumni, arriving for the event.

Helmets, mobile phones, bags, bottles, black flags, umbrellas, lighters, matchboxes, weapons and hazardous materials were banned at the venue. Invitees were required to carry their invitation card and a valid ID proof. “It appeared as if I was entering parliament or the CM’s residence and not a university,” said Bharat Kumar, a senior advocate and alumni of the university.

The electronic media was not allowed inside and the news feed of the inaugural event was supplied to channels by the state government’s information and public relations department. Only the print media was allowed inside the venue, but was kept at a distance from the dais so that they could not record any protests. “We were instructed not to bring any video journalists and also avoid photographers,” confirmed an official of the Telangana publicity cell.

“It was unprecedented security, unlike during the Telangana movement or even the visit of the American president in 2005,” said student leader K. Prabhakar Reddy of the ABVP. Not only students, but politicians and locals were aghast at the happenings around Osmania University campus. “What a shame, there is no portrait of the benefactor of Osmania – Nizam VII, Osman Ali Pasha or any Urdu banners at the university event,” said the leader of opposition in the Telangana legislative council, Mohammed Ali Shabbir. The Muslim community was also sore that the university and the Telegu Rashtra Samiti (TRS) government had neglected to invite a member of the royal family, though many were available, with Prince Mukkaram Jah even arriving in Hyderabad hoping to make an appearance.

Osmania University, India’s seventh oldest educational institution, was named after its founder, Nawab Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, and established in 1918. Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore had thought the university was a patriotic symbol against the supremacy of a foreign language, since the medium of instruction was Urdu. “What a tragedy that Urdu was forgotten at the inaugural event itself,” said a senior Urdu journalist.

President Pranab Mukherjee and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao at the centenary celebrations. Credit: Twitter

Why is KCR miffed with Osmania students?

As an alumnus of the university, KCR had supported the student campaign against Congress leaders and landlords of Medak and Rangareddy districts when he was in the Youth Congress in the 1970s and 1980s. However, KCR has been upset with Osmania University ever since students protested against him and burnt his effigy for withdrawing from his fast in November 2009. He was forced to continue his fast in the hospital. Following this, was his battle with the Telangana Joint Action Committee leader and his mentor Kodandaram.

After Telangana was created, KCR and Kodandaram parted ways. KCR had even refused to give him an appointment when the latter wanted to discuss university and employment policy. In early February this year, when Kodandaram wanted to lead a rally for unemployed youth, the government refused him permission. The inaugural of the centenary celebrations was KCR’s first visit to the campus since 2014.

Students of Osmania were the bulwark of the Telangana movement and for months between 2011 to 2013, they kept the police on edge with their protests. The police, under Congress chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy of the united Andhra Pradesh, had refused to allow the students to come out of the campus and foiled their designs to gherao the assembly, the chief minister’s home and the secretariat. KCR had then spoken against the police and the Congress for curtailing the freedom of students.

“After bifurcation of the state, KCR and even TRS leaders had kept away from the university and not invited them to share power. They only used us to hit at Congress and other political players,” said Ramesh Reddy, another student leader of Osmania who was among those detained at their hostel rooms during the inaugural event.

Sources in Raj Bhavan say that KCR also influenced governor Narasimhan to not address the historic session. Narasimhan reportedly struck down the proposal of university authorities not just once, but twice citing ‘protocol’. “What protocol compelled Narasimhan to address the students? Probably Narasimhan wanted another smooth term in Raj Bhavan and therefore wanted to please KCR,” charged TDP leader A. Revanth Reddy.

Why Osmania students are angry

Since the formation of Telangana, students had expected a lot from the TRS and KCR. TRS leaders had assured the students at least five assembly seats and up to three MP tickets in recognition of their contribution to the Telangana movement. But KCR reneged on this promise. He gave the chairmanship of the Telangana State Public Service Commission to Ganta Chakrapani and one parliament seat to Balka Suman, a student leader. But he ignored other university leaders, including Kodandaram.

The student community also wants the TRS government to fulfill its poll promises of creating one lakh jobs. In addition, the government was asked to allocate Rs 1,000 crores to the university for the centenary, but it received only Rs 50 crores after a sanction of Rs 200 crores.

Student leaders say that the government has ditched the Osmania students after the goal of a separate Telangana was achieved. “KCR now wants students to not enter politics but to focus on studies. What a turncoat,” said S.K. Moorthi, an SFI leader.

Given KCR’s indifference, the Osmania student community has turned increasingly hostile towards him. Instead of wooing the students, the government used police force on them. Raids were conducted on hostels to flush out ‘extremists’.

KCR has made no efforts to build bridges with the Osmania students community. His education minister, Kadiam Srihari, a former TDP man, was not accepted by the student body, who refused to sit at a negotiating table with him. The students term the principal secretary of education Ranjiva Acharya as ‘arrogant’ and ‘non-student friendly’ with a ‘closed mindset’. Younger ministers like Harish Rao and K.T. Rama Rao have distanced themselves from student affairs and TRS general secretary K. Kesava Rao also failed to convince the students and abruptly withdrew from student engagement.

“The fact is that the student community of Osmania is angry with KCR as he had promised to make a Dalit as chief minister and later changed his mind. A Dalit from TDP is made only a deputy chief minister. But it appears that KCR had promised them (students) a share in power on the lines of Assam and it did not materalise in view of soured relations with Professor Kodandaram,” said B. Ramdass, a senior journalist.

Jeevan Reddy, Congress MLA and deputy leader in the Telangana assembly, said it was unbecoming of a chief minister to hide from dissent by using police force in an educational institution. “Is KCR ashamed to recognise the contribution and sacrifice of students,” he asked, while also wanting to know why a contingent of policemen as large as 5,000 were deployed for a historic event at an educational institution where students from over 15 countries were studying.

G.S. Radhakrishna is a senior journalist who has worked in Hyderabad for over two decades. He is an independent journalist with The Lede.