Published: 04th February 2023
"Following PM's guidance": VBU to CM Mamata Banerjee in retaliation to her remarks against VC's actions
In the ongoing spat between VBU and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, the university releases a statement attacking the CM
Visva-Bharati University (VBU) in a press release dated February 1, attacked West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, calling her someone who "sees through her ears" and requires to "use her brains". The move comes after Mamata Banerjee dismissed VBU's claims about Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen's property and warned the university about its arbitrary actions against students and teachers. "The statement made by VBU against the CM is not one that we, the students and instructors, support. Sadly, it appears that the university now only refers to the Vice-Chancellor (VC) who has become the spokesperson for a political party. The sign of the Public Relations Officer (PRO) that was used in the release is also scanned, indicating that even she has no agency," says Meenakshi Bhattacharya, a student.
The letter, which was signed by the PRO of the university, Mahua Banerjee, and written in Bengali, stated that as a central university, it followed the "mag-darshan" (guidance) of the Prime Minister and thus, was better off without the blessings of Banerjee. The letter also sarcastically alludes to the arrests of Trinamool ministers and the ongoing recruitment scam in Bengal, saying that this is owing to Banerjee taking decisions based on "information fed by her flatterers". "The language used in the statement does not suit a central university and is unacceptable. Will the administration's behaviour be the same if this were some Union Minister?" asks Somenath Sow, a student whose MA admission was cancelled last year for his criticism against Chakraborty. In January, he was finally granted admission after the intervention of the Calcutta High Court (HC).
Mamata Banerjee, who was visiting VBU on January 31, criticised the VC's moves against its teachers and students. She also called the university out for its attempt to curb democratic protests and saffronise the campus. To recall, VC Bidyut Chakrabarty has been in constant conflict with the employees and students of the university ever since he assumed his position in 2018. As a result of pent-up anger against VC, in November 2022, the students of VBU gheraoed Chakraborty, followed by a prolonged sit-in protest outside his residence, demanding his resignation. The protests ended in violence and the dismantling of the tents set up by the students. A video also surfaced of the VC pelting stones at students. Just days later, the president of the Visva-Bharati Faculty Association (VBUFA), Prof Sudipta Bhattacharyya, was terminated without any enquiry proceedings and six students, along with an ex-student, were sent suspension orders for one year.
Recently, VBU also sent a letter to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen accusing him of grabbing unauthorised land and asking him to hand over parts of it. Sen, who has been a constant critique of the Central government, has been at the receiving end of this dispute since 2020, despite refutation by both CM Banerjee and himself. As per claims, the moves against Sen come from a place of political vendetta. "The university administration is making its political bias very obvious. The attacks by the VC are nothing more than some political gain and BJP bootlicking," says Somenath, adding, "He is encashing on it to reap some political favour. If politics is his agenda then he can come in an open forum to do so. But for a VC of a central university to act like this is unacceptable."
Several academicians and renowned personalities have criticised Chakraborty's actions in the past. The recent statement issued by VBU against Banerjee also drew condemnation. As per a PTI report, numerous academicians said it was written in "poor taste". The report quotes former Vice-Chancellor of VBU, Sabujkali Sen, saying, "I have not seen such a statement during my 40 years of association with Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore's dream place of learning. It is very painful to believe that the VC (Bidyut Chakraborty), an educated person, can draft such a letter which is in very poor taste."
Theatre personality Kaushik Sen, VC of Rabindra Bharati University, Pabitra Sarkar, and writer Nrisinga Prasad Bhaduri also criticised the statement, among many others. Drawing parallels with a "street quarrel" and "dadagiri of local club members", they said the statement and its language do not suit someone holding such an eminent post at a central university.
Previously, more than 250 academicians, including well-known linguist Noam Chomsky, wrote to President Draupadi Murmu, informing her about the termination of professor Sudipta Bhattacharya over "undesirable" actions and seeking her intervention.
Criticism from BJP
Interestingly, the National Secretary of BJP, Anupam Hazra, has also denounced the actions of Chakraborty, state reports. Hazra accused the VC of trying to portray himself as a "pro-BJP" academic, which has brought disgrace to the Union government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is the Chancellor of the university.
Alluding to recent incidents with Amartya Sen and Mamata Banerjee, he said to PTI, "Whatever Bidyut Chakraborty is doing as the vice-chancellor of the university is wrong. He is trying to project himself as more BJP than any BJP leader, and in this effort, he is harming the party." Chakraborty has been over and again accused of attempting to saffronise the campus and in his attempts, he has allegedly vehemently tried to suppress any voices of dissent, including that of eminent VBU professors who brought laurels to the university.
VBU under attack
“The VC is trying to bring his narrow politics into the administration of the university. He has an antagonistic relationship with everyone; even those who support him are in fear of him. This is nothing but BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) deliberate attempt to destroy the openness that VBU stands for and make it monolithic," said advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, when he previously spoke with EdexLive. Founded by Rabindranath Tagore with the principles of academic openness, including an open campus and openness in thought and expression, VBU is currently facing multiple legal cases involving its employees and students. "The VC might follow the 'margh-darshan' (guidance) of the Prime Minister, but we, the students of VBU, solely follow the 'margh-darshan' of Tagore," says Meenakshi.
In the past, most court orders have been against the university, with the administration being repeatedly criticised for its actions. Despite facing over 100 legal cases and paying lakhs of rupees in fines, the administration continues to engage in conflicts with its employees and students.