West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has expressed solidarity with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen after Visva-Bharati University (VBU), a central university, named him on its list of illegal occupants on the campus.
Banerjee wrote a letter to Prof Sen on Friday (December 25), highlighting his deep ancestral roots with Santiniketan (where Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had set up Visva-Bharati in 1921) and said such allegations were being made against him as he “is not inclined towards BJP’s ideology”.
VBU vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty said at a virtual faculty meeting recently that Prof Amartya Sen had and requested that hawkers around his house on Visva-Bharati campus not be evicted as his daughter, who visits Santiniketan often, would be inconvenienced. Chakraborty also claimed that Prof Sen suggested giving space to the hawkers inside his property.
Visva-Bharati University Faculty Association (VBUFA) president Sudipta Bhattacharyya, who was present at the virtual meeting, wrote an email to Sen to find out if what the V-C said was true.
In reply to the mail, Sen denied making any phone call to the vice-chancellor. Prof Sen wrote, “I am very surprised to hear about what the Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati apparently has declared in an online faculty meeting. I do not think I have had such a conversation with him.”
The VBU has issued a show-cause notice to the president of its faculty association, Sudipta Bhattacharyya, for allegedly violating the varsity’s code of conduct by reaching out to the media with internal correspondence.
Prof Sen, born in 1933, was named Amartya by Tagore himself. It may also be noted that several plots on Visva-Bharati University campus were given to eminent persons on 99-year lease at the time of Tagore. Amartya Sen’s father was one of the beneficiaries. The Visva-Bharati estate office claims to have recently prepared a list of illegal occupants that includes the name of Sen as his house, Pratichi, occupies around 138 decimals while the original lease was given on 125 decimals.
In May 1951, Visva-Bharati was declared a central university and an institution of national importance by an act of Parliament.
Responding to the controversy, Sen said that the entire land occupied by him is registered in records and is entirely on long term lease. In a mail to the media on Friday (December 25), Sen also referred to a big yawn between the culture espoused in Santiniketan and that of the VC, apparently “empowered” by the government at the Centre.
Sen said in the statement that the central university has never complained about any irregularity of landholding either to him or his family. The Nobel laureate asserted that the Visva-Bharati land on which his house is situated is entirely on a long-term lease, which is nowhere near its expiry.
“Additional land was bought by my father as free hold and registered in land records under mouja Surul,” he said “I could comment on the big gap between Santiniketan culture and that of the VC, empowered as he is by the central government in Delhi with its growing control over Bengal,” Sen added. “I would prefer to use Indian laws as they exist.For mental strength, I may clutch the beautiful old picture of our home by Abanindranath Tagore, among others,” he said.
(With agency inputs)