With the fencing issue in West Bengal’s Visva-Bharati University intensifying the State vs Centre duel, the vice-chancellor of the Rabindranath Tagore-founded institution has now triggered another row, calling the Nobel laureate an “outsider” to Bolpur, where the university is located.
Visva-Bharati, a central university founded in 1921, hit the headlines last week as violence erupted during the construction of a wall around its ‘Pous Mela’ grounds, which hosts the popular annual carnival started in 1894 by Debendranath Tagore, the poet’s father.
The violence unfolded on August 17 morning as a thousands-strong mob entered the campus and ransacked properties in protest against the erection of the wall. They brought down a part of the wall, arguing that the construction was averse to the Nobel laureate’s ideologies. A gate was also vandalised.
Many, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, had blamed “outsiders” for fomenting the controversy and trying to protect the construction.
To counter this, the university’s vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty alleged an attempt to ostracise his colleagues by labelling them as outsiders. He went to the extent of saying that Tagore, the founder of the university, was himself an “outsider” to the place where the university stands.
In a “special missive” on August 22, he said, “Let me begin by reminding the readers that Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore was an outsider himself; had he not taken a liking to the area, Visva-Bharati wouldn’t have evolved. Besides, Gurudev Tagore, his colleagues – who paved the way for Visva-Bharati to develop as a hub of knowledge creation and dissemination – all came from outside Bolpur.”
Chakrabarty also sought to defend the construction of the walls, saying there are innumerable instances of walls being erected on the campus to prevent theft and other “unsavoury” activities. He cited that one had already existed around the China Bhavan when Tagore was alive.
He said the present Pous Mela ground “does not represent any heritage at all” as it was acquired only 60 years ago while the ‘heritage’ status in India requires a building or precinct to exist for at least 100 years. Chakrabarty said that the Mela ground had been fortified more than 25 years ago, and currently, only the southern and eastern periphery remain unfenced.
Two former vice-chancellors of the university – Rajat Kanta Ray and Sujit Kumar Basu – have said that authorities should have taken the locals into confidence before commencing the construction work. Basu, who served 2001-06, however, told PTI that erecting a wall was against Tagore’s thinking.
Following the violence, the university had shut down indefinitely and said that it will seek a CBI probe. It had blamed Trinamool Congress MLA from Dubrajpur, Naresh Bauri, and two other party leaders for the violence. Bauri was allegedly present on the campus when the violence took place.
Reportedly, tensions have been simmering between the university administration and the locals over the decision to erect the wall around the carnival ground, and prior to the violence took place, even a local traders’ body had opposed to the construction, miffed by the decision to call off this year’s Pous Mela.
The university authorities had earlier argued that the construction was mandated by a National Green Tribunal verdict in 2017 saying that a “barrier needs to be constructed to demarcate the Mela ground from the university and the locality.”
It didn’t take much time for the incident to become a State vs Centre duel. Soon after the incident, CM Banerjee said she had a talk with the Governor and that she told him that she is not in favour of any construction on that ground. She said, “There were outsiders who were trying to protect the construction.”
Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who never fails to air his views and target the state government, said the status of law and order in Visva Bharati is alarming. State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh alleged that the local TMC leadership was trying to grab the land belonging to the university.