St Xavier's college's annual festival Malhar, scheduled from August 14 to 16, has kicked up a controversy a day before its start.
The college sent an invitation to controversial activist Sheetal Sathe of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) as one of the speakers for Thursday, a move strongly opposed by Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). KKM has been under watch of the Maharashtra Police for the past many years.
However, in a late night development, it emerged that the institute has withdrawn the invitation following pressure from ABVP.
The Mumbai unit of the ABVP led a delegation to the college on Tuesday and also shot off a letter to Mumbai police commissioner Rakesh Maria to pressurise Malhar organisers to cancel the invitation. The union even threatened to launch a protest at the college on Thursday.
ABVP member Yadunath alleged, "Sathe has been involved in Naxal activities and was on the verge of arrest two years back. How can an academic institution invite such people? This is anti-national activity, which we strongly oppose."
ABVP, the students' wing of the BJP, left no stone unturned to ensure the college cancelled Sathe's invitation for a panel discussion on 'Invisibility of Caste'.
One of the organisers of Malhar, Niraj Chitnis, confirmed the development, but claimed, "Sathe herself withdrew from the panel. I can't comment further, please speak to the principal." While Fr Mascarenhas refused to comment, Sathe couldn't be contacted.
A top police officer, however, said Sathe was out on bail and free to speak anywhere. But Maria gave a guarded response. "ABVP members met me and we are looking into the issue. We will provide adequate bandobast to avoid any untoward incident," he said.
Sathe is the lead singer of KKM, a Pune-based vidrohi geet ensemble. Malhar website introduces her as "While Sheetal Sathe and her colleagues have lent their voice to several public interest causes, the primary focus of their work has been to provoke dialogue on the struggles of Dalit people. She currently faces charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and is out on bail."
In May 2011, a crackdown by ATS on musicians and poets accused of promoting Naxalite ideology led to Sathe and other members of the Manch going into hiding. She and her husband Sachin Male, also a member of the same group, surrendered to the police in April 2013, though they claim innocence. She was granted bail by the Bombay high court on June 28, 2013, on humanitarian grounds owing to her pregnancy.
The college had earlier courted controversy ahead of the Lok Sabha election, when the principal had personally e-mailed all students criticising the "Gujarat model" and urging them not to vote for the "saffron parties" and instead support "secular parties".