Osmania University: Row over Rahul Gandhi’s visit is due to clash of egos

Hyderabad: In 2017, Osmania University (OU) entered its centenary year, and grand celebrations were to be held. The then President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, also attended the function. However, things turned sour when student groups opposed Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s (KCR) presence. They later accepted it, but made it clear that he was not to speak or he would be opposed.

The varsity’s ‘grand’ centenary celebrations fizzled out, as the event ended soon after the vice-chancellor and President of India gave their speeches. KCR however did not speak. That was the second time he was rebuffed by students. Prior to that, the chief minister’s helicopter was supposed to land in the Osmania University, but it was averted when student leaders reportedly gathered to stage a protest.

Among all of the various groups (like trade unions) that KCR has brought under his political aegis after coming to power in 2014, he has not been successful. Osmania University’s student leaders and groups have been difficult to navigate with, due to a host of issues. However, it may be noted that the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) gave tickets and also made some political appointments to a small number of ex-OU Joint Action Committee (OUJAC) members post the creation of Telangana.

But why are students in OU so opposed to KCR?

The answer mainly would be KCR’s promise of new jobs, and autocratic tendencies (which have not gone well with many). After about eight years since Telangana formed, the chief minister just recently announced that notifications for about 80,000 government jobs will be released. Moreover, being anti-establishment is the leitmotif of Osmania University’s politics, and for years the varsity was the epicentre of protests for Telangana’s separate statehood (until it was achieved in 2014).

In February 2017, OUJAC leaders and Prof. M. Kondaram (who spearheaded the statehood protests with KCR and later founded the Telangana Jana Samithi) planned to conduct a meeting with unemployed youth. It was however thwarted by the police, which detained the professor and several others, preventing them from reaching their destination.

“OU’s politics has always been anti-establishment. All of us know that the decision to not allow Rahul Gandhi is purely about politics and nothing else,” said a TRS leader, who was earlier associated with student politics in Osmania University. As of now, based on a petition, the Telangana High Court asked OU’s vice-chancellor to “reconsider” its decision to disallow Congress MP and leader Rahul Gandhi from entering the campus to meet students.

It is to be seen what the OU administration does with regard to Rahul Gandhi, who will be in Telangana on May 6 and 7. He will also address a massive public meeting in Warangal as well.

“They didn’t say Rahul Gandhi is holding a public meeting in campus. He wanted to just visit and interact with students. There is no issue with that. BJP leader and now governor of Himachal Pradesh Bandaru Dattatreya walks in OU regularly and meets students. He has been doing that from years, so why is it an issue?” questioned a former faculty member and political activist, who did not want to be named.

He opined that OU’s adminsitration is also not “autonomous” anymore, in recent times due to new appointments and added, “During the time of previous vice chancellors, they would not allow anyone to enter without permission, including the police. For KCR, Rahul Gandhi meeting students is basically a burnol moment.”

It is no secret that Osmania University, unlike other varsities in India, had a open political culture, wherein student groups held sway. The administration would often roll back decisions if pressured by students, and even political parties would count on student leaders for support. However, after the TRS came to power in Telangana, students have claimed that the administration slowly began curtailing their activities.

In June last year, Osmania University’s executive council passed resolutions to curtail all political acts like burning fg effigies, public meetings, displaying of banners etc in the campus. The council also resolved to stop “unauthorised videography” in campus, aside from disallowing all political and religious organisations from organising anything in the varsity.

Many, including former faculty members from OU, attribute this development to the state government’s move of appointing IAS officers in the administration. “IAS officers are bureaucrats. Universities are public spaces, where political activities will take place. If you appoint such people in such places instead of academics, what else will happen?” remarked a former student from the campus, who did not want to be named as well.