August 13, 2023

Maha: Elections to Mumbai University Senate & Academic Council BUCTU Trounces Right Wing Opponents

Sudhir Paranjape

 THE Bombay University and College Teachers’ Union (BUCTU) once again and unequivocally reaffirmed its stamp of authority in the affairs of University of Mumbai with an overwhelming victory in the just concluded elections to the senate and academic council with a thumping majority.

Elections with preferential voting system were held for ten senate seats (five general and five reserved) and eight academic council seats. The results of these elections were declared on July 7, 2023. BUCTU contested all ten senate seats and won eight out of ten. In the academic council, BUCTU contested three seats (two general and one reserved ) and won all three (two seats remained vacant). One of the elected senate members is Chandrashekhar Kulkarni (AIFUCTO vice president from Maharashtra).

Anticipating that the authorities at the level of the state government as well as the University of Mumbai, would try all means possible including unconstitutional as well as unethical ones, to defeat the BUCTU, or at least dent the confidence and trust that the teachers had in its leadership, a systematic plan was made and adhered to by the campaign committee of BUCTU from the very start of this election, to counter and defeat this. Teams of BUCTU office bearers, district leaders and several activists along with the candidates fanned out across the six districts (viz. Mumbai, Palghar, Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg that form the vast area of jurisdiction of Mumbai University) and reached out to all including the remotest colleges. And the results speak for themselves!!

In its appeal to the voters, the BUCTU's emphasis that the elections had acquired great significance as they were being conducted in the post-covid period when all the institutions underwent a strong lockdown from 2020 to 2021, resonated with the voters. Pertinently, during the lockdown, the central government had pushed through many new bills that were an attack on the livelihoods of the people and their democratic rights; including, the farm laws, labour codes, electricity bill, and also, the education policy. One major agenda of this was to reduce the expenditure for public causes. All these bills were to push ahead with reform for greater privatisation. In this, education, health, public transport, etc became the soft targets.

As a result, with the adoption of the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, all the sectors of education are struggling to save public funded education. Through this policy the government wants to demolish the existing system and put in its place a new one with ‘clustering’ that will deprive lakhs of children, especially in the rural areas, of their fundamental right to education – with upward spiraling deprivation in higher classes.

BUCTU has been the vanguard in the battle to save public funded education in the state of Maharashtra. Intensive campaign against NEP 2020 had taken place in Mumbai and Konkan since 2020. During which, in order to reach out to the teachers as well as the students, meetings/workshops, interactions, etc were conducted by BUCTU in all of above six districts. The response of the students as well as teachers had been very encouraging. And, it is in this background that the elections to the senate and academic council were being held.

Because, BUCTU has taken the responsibility to not only advance the cause of equity, access and quality in higher education and to strengthen the democratic structure of higher education but has also shown solidarity with other sections of the society in their struggle for survival and justice. At the call of BUCTU thousands of teachers contributed during 2020-21 for the  kisan andolan, relief for migrant workers, ASHA workers, tribals and flood-affected students, non-teaching staff and contractual teachers; following activities consistent with the BUCTU’s ideals made it stand apart from its opponents in this election.

(i) Old pension scheme for All (ii) Withdrawal of NEP 2020 (iii) Equal pay for equal work

In Solidarity with November 26, 2020 All India Strike, BUCTU activists participated in joint demonstrations with school teachers and other trade unions in Mumbai and at various tehsil/divisional offices in Raigad, Thane, Palghar, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg. BUCTU participated in ‘Save India Day’ action on August 9, 2021 with parents and activists working under the banner of Shikshan Bachao Manch in the joint demonstrations of trade unions. In  support of Bharat Bandh on September  27, 2021 - in solidarity with farmers and trade unions and to oppose the NEP 2020, BUCTU along with TUJAC units held demonstrations and gate meetings in Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts. Students also joined their teachers in several places.

More importantly, BUCTU was part of the historic strike in Maharashtra led by Coordination Committee (Samanvay Samiti) of organisations of State government employees,  teachers and non-teaching employees during March 14-20, 2023 to press for the implementation of the 18- point charter, of which the first three demands were: restoration of old pension scheme, regularization of contractual employees and filling up of vacant posts. At the behest of BUCTU, the Samanvay Samiti included the demand to scrap NEP 2020 in the charter of demands. BUCTU was the only union of college and university teachers in Maharashtra to join the strike. The impressive campaign by BUCTU activists and enthusiastic participation of teachers in colleges (including autonomous colleges) in all districts was appreciated by all sections of Samanvay Samiti indicated by inclusion of the general secretary of BUCTU in the core committee (Sukanu Samiti) for negotiations with the government.

BUCTU has been reaching out to various sections which are not in the mainstream but face exploitation in institutions due to deficient government policies and neglect by the university. Representations have been made to the state government demanding machinery for disbursement of regular salary in self-financing institutions, and particularly, in Engineering colleges.

Persistent follow up by BUCTU for implementation of 7th Pay Commission to part-time (PT) teachers led to issuance of GR for their pay-revision and has benefitted PT teachers in the entire state. BUCTU is making efforts to organise teachers working on ‘clock- hour’ basis, who are among the most exploited sections.

A sample study of 27000 college students in Mumbai University on impact of lockdown on higher education was undertaken in 2020 (report carried in Hindustan Times). Another study of enrolment patterns in pre-pandemic and post-pandemic period in Maharashtra (school education and higher education) was carried out in 2021-22. The report of this study was released on August 12,2022 (Reports carried in Hindustan Times, Maharashtra Times and Mid-Day).

Based on the findings of these studies the BUCTU office bearers made persistent efforts to pressurise the university authorities to resolve various issues related to students and faculty, which were followed up by the senate members on the floor of the preceding senate.  

BUCTU has always considered participation in various bodies of the university as a means for advancing the cause of higher education and academic community. It is, hence, not surprising that, in a brazen act to silence the democratic voice of teachers, several local activists and leaders of BJP openly campaigned for the right wing and opportunist opponents of BUCTU.

Sensing that the BUCTU could not be weakened, let alone defeated in an above board contest, the authorities had resorted to numerous underhanded measures and certain outfits that had suddenly surfaced on the eve of the senate election were enlisted to campaign against the BUCTU.

While the elections to corresponding bodies in all the other  universities had been completed last year itself!, the government deliberately isolated Mumbai University to push them forward by several months thereby reducing the term of members to be  elected by one year. Next, in the last ditch, in a desperate attempt to diminish the chances of a BUCTU victory, the university authorities were prevailed upon to “rework” if not tamper with the list of voters, by arbitrarily deleting over six hundred bonafide voters (including former senate members) from nearly 3700 who enrolled; and further that, the political masters of the group of BUCTU's opponents, viz. the BJP’s elected representatives not just in the local bodies, but also in the state legislature and corporations, openly meddled in these elections. Nonetheless, they were exposed to be indulging in gross electoral malpractices: including, violating their oath of allegiance to the constitution, to stoop so low as to openly distribute cash to induce teacher-voters to vote for “their candidates.” But, they failed miserably. Because, the conscious and upright electors rebuffed them and  stood firmly behind the BUCTU, which alone, has consistently been fighting against and exposing the authorities for the past six decades in defense of the rights of the students, youth and teachers. Ultimately it is the unity of teachers that prevailed and handed yet another decisive defeat to the motley reactionary coalition.

The overall campaign was organised by Tapati Mukhopadhyay (convener, campaign committee), president GB Raje and general secretary Madhu Paranjape with Chandrashekhar Kulkarni and Shailendra Singh in Mumbai, BM Shikare and PD Datar in Raigad, P Pagare and RB Singh in Palghar, H Sutar and Jyoti Pethkar in Ratnagiri, Madhvi Nikam and Sujju Gujar in Thane,  Vinod Patil and A Lokhande in Sindhudurg leading the college visits. Anupama Sawant and Tanuja Sarode handled work relating to publicity and postage and the backoffice.

In a press note the campaign committee thanked the voters for the trust and support they displayed, as also for defeating the game plan of the opponents.

(With inputs from campaign committee)