Kerala is ruled by a government led by the Communist Party Of India (Marxist) who almost always claim ownership of all the uprisings in the state against ruling class exploitation. Therefore its response to an agitation by students against the management of a non-government law collage in Thiruvananthapuram, a cause that has resonated across the state for various reasons, is bemusing and illustrative of the contradictions in its politics. It shows how two faced any political party is .

Its students wing, the SFI (Students Federation of India), known for its violent strikes and destruction of public property whenever the party is out of power, and its domination of college campuses across the state using its brute muscle, joined the agitation late, and struck a deal with the management. All other student factions are continuing the strike and it looks like the SFI agitation was scripted and premeditated.

So now we have a very odd scene of a party that swears by Marx and Lenin and rise up in agitation in the drop of a hat very reluctant to side with the students and is seen very keen to toe the line of the management that is facing allegations of land grab and various other illegalities along with atrocities to the students. And that too when all other political parties are lining firmly behind the students.

It has been over 3 weeks since the students of the Kerala Law Academy went on strike demanding the resignation of its principal, Lekshmi Nair, protesting her allegedly autocratic and the way in which she violates the rights of the students. The students complain that Nair, an academic who also is a prominent anchor in CPM-backed TV channel, runs the 50-year old college like a personal fiefdom. They accuse her of intimidation, malpractice, victimisation, favouritism, caste-based discrimination, and unlawful misdemeanour. They say that they cannot take her subjugation any more and will fight it out, even at the risk of their future. Two students have even filed a police complaint against her under the SC/ST Act and want her to be arrested. There are even voice clips that have come out which shows how Nair behaves to students behind closed doors.

All other students are continuing the strike, making the SFI look like it played a scripted and badly orchestrated part obediently.

Nair in her defence has said she is being singled out because she is a woman. But Ironically, it’s the girl students that have complained against her the most.

The agitation is now turning out to be a unique one in Kerala where the ruling CPM and SFI, historically at the forefront of such agitations, are seen as the agents of the management. The public sentiment looks like overwhelmingly with the students with almost the entire media, except the CPM-run channels and newspaper, backing them. Many eminent citizens of the state, who are otherwise sympathetic to the CPM, have spoken in support of the students and have demanded action against the management. It’s the biggest political story since the present government took over and has been primetime news for several days in a row.

Unlike the other agitations that shook the state in the recent past like the solar scam, this one has a rare emotional appeal because it’s waged by peaceful students, particularly girls, against a politically powerful family. A family that has allegedly usurped and appropriated a public institution established in partnership with the second communist government in 1967-68 to promote law education.

The case of the Kerala Law Academy is unique in Kerala, particularly in the context of the sense of equality and rights, the primacy of government-funded education that the state is historically known for, and the proclivity to agitations whenever they are under threat. It began as a society in 1966 as a joint initiative of eminent citizens and jurists, got inaugurated by the then Chief Minister EMS Namboothiripad in 1967, and started running courses in 1968. The government leased out more than 11 acres of land in the city for the Academy, as it was meant to be a public institution in which the state Governor was the chief patron and the Chief Minister was the patron. The revenue and education ministers of state cabinet and three High Court judges were its members.

The Opposition including congress and BJP has smelled a political opportunity and has now jumped in headlong.

When voices of opposition were raised in the state assembly, against the allocation of prime land in 1968, a minister concerned had clarified that it was not owned by an individual and was a public institution in which the government was a partner. For the same reasons, the initial lease on government land–11 acres and 49 cents–in the heart of the city, for three years was extended to 35 years and in 1985, it was assigned to the Academy.

However, the CPM government, as well as party’s top leaders, today call it a private institution which seems like a betrayal of the State’s investment and responsibility. In fact, that is the sole reason cited by both the CPM and the government for its helplessness in removing the principal as the students demand. However, it doesn’t have an answer to the question on how a public institution with serious government participation, started by a CPM-led government in the 1960s when self-financing colleges were anathema in Kerala, has become a private institution controlled by a single family.

Today, the Academy society’s composition has no resemblance to the original structure that attracted government support–there’s no Governor, chief minister, ministers or High Court judges. They have all disappeared, how did that happen?. It seems nobody knows. Instead, family members of the first secretary of the college, N. Narayanan Nair, dominate the governing council and executive committee. His daughter is the principal against whom the students started the protests. These facts started coming into public attention only after the agitations began.

The students’ agitation invariably brought attention not just to the alleged autocracy and tyrannical ways of the principal, but also to the entire range of issues concerning the Academy–largely how it’s been run like a family enterprise with no role from the govt.

And unsurprisingly, there are demands from all political parties, except the CPM, that the land that had been allotted to the original society should be taken back because it was not given to a private institution and the conditions have been violated and the land is used for other purposes than what it was given for , and that the Academy itself should be taken over by the Government because of the lack of transparency of its management and the way its academic evaluations, that put students at great risk of subjugation and exploitation. In fact, the former Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan was the first to demand the seizure of government land.

Questions have also been raised about the affiliation of the Academy. The literature of the Academy says that it had been affiliated in 1968; however, the Kerala University reportedly doesn’t have any records.

What’s holding the CPM back, despite such a damaging backlash.

Therefore, what began as a genuine demand by students for the removal of the principal now has snowballed into a major issue that the CPM government is finding hard to handle. It did try to subvert the agitation by sending in the SFI and settling for a pro-management agreement.  But the management itself has backtracked from the agreement and it has put mud of the face of CPM and SFI . Thus it backfired big time and the students are continuing with their agitation. The Congress, which was also tentative in its support to the agitation initially as many of its leaders are the Alumni of this institution, has smelled a political opportunity and has now jumped in headlong. Today, all the major political parties, including the Communist Party Of India, a coalition partner of the CPI(M) in the ruling government, are backing the students. A sitting MLA of the Congress and a BJP leader are on indefinite hunger strike in front of the institution.

The swelling public support has also found its support from eminent citizens. For example  T. Padmanabhan, a leading Malayalam writer and a self-confessed admirer of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, was quite vocal in his criticism last week, when he demanded stern action against the Academy at a literary festival, co-organised by the government. In fact, he too asked the fundamental question–how did a family take over and control a public institution.

It’s really puzzling as to what’s holding the CPM back, despite such a damaging backlash. It’s public knowledge that all political parties, not just the CPM, have benefited from the Academy over the years. A large number of their leaders, their children and nominees got their law degrees from there. But, adverse public sentiments have pushed other parties into the agitation, except the CPM. Its chief minister hasn’t spoken a word, its education minister is trying to obfuscate by citing jurisdictional limitations and its university syndicate is blocking any possible action.

H/T: huff post india