By Arun Srivastava
The delirious, deranged joy of taking a dig at Nobel laureate Professor Amartya Sen is so addictive for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government that his protégé, the Vice Chancellor of Visva Bharati University, Professor Bidyut Chakraborty, has gone to the extreme of slandering Sen, insinuating that he’s not a real recipient of the most prestigious Nobel Prize.
After shooting him a letter three days back, alleging that Sen was occupying more land than his family was allotted, and he should immediately vacate it, Chakraborty has now alleged: “Amartya Sen has never received any Nobel Prize and the original prize list by Alfred Nobel did not mention the subject economics. Instead, it was given by the Sweden Central Bank and does not belong to the original list of five subjects”. He also claimed, “The name of the prize is the Bank of Sweden Economic Prize in Memory of Alfred Nobel.”
Undoubtedly, this mala fide smear campaign against Sen has hurt the feelings of the people of West Bengal and they have come out accusing Chakraborty of acting at the behest of PM Modi. They also rubbish his allegation by pointing out that Amartya Sen’s name is listed in the website of the Nobel Prize Committee of Sweden and he is globally invited and recognised as a Nobel laureate for decades now.
Sen has been the symbol of Bengali pride and obviously this smear campaign against him has enraged the sentiment of the people. Observers say of Chakraborty: “To be acknowledged as the prime flatterer of Modi, he has been resorting to such action and uttering nonsense”. In his compulsion to keep his mentor happy and in good humour, within just three days of his earlier letter, the VC has shot off a second one asking Sen to immediately hand over parts of a plot he has been allegedly occupying in an “unauthorised manner” at Santiniketan.
It is not that Sen is not aware of the persons who are pursuing this dirty agenda. He himself has said that few people from Delhi have never liked him. What prompted the Modi government to intensify the calumny is Sen’s statement on January 15, when in an interview to an online website he said: “Modi government is one of the most appalling in the world This government treats its own people in a nasty way, neglecting the justice and fairness that should come to people of different ancestry”. He had said the same thing to the French newspaper Le Monde, underlining that “the Indian government is one of the most appalling in the world”.
He even said: “The neglect of Indians in India is a major error, a major catastrophe that riddles the country. This is a tragedy because India was not like that before the present administration began. People like (Mahatma) Gandhi, (Jawaharlal) Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose worked very hard to make the country a combined, united nation.” He was highly critical of the derogatory phrases “termites” and ‘Babar ki Aulad” (Babar’s offspring) used by Modi’s ministers for Muslims. Sen had replied: “That language is a reflection of an understanding of the Indian nation that is very distorted indeed.… To only count Hindus as Indians and not the others is a terrible aberration.… I think it is a terrible folly to ignore the multiple pluralistic nature of the country and I think we have every reason to be upset by the reduction of India.”
Obviously for Modi who has been opposed to Sen, the globally acclaimed academic’s comments hit his dispensation hard. On the toxic anti-Muslim prejudice in India and Muslims increasingly becoming second-class citizens, Sen remarked: “I am not only worried, I am terrified that a nation with different components is suddenly in a state of catastrophic isolation as groups, in particular Muslims, have ended up being. We live in a country where suddenly a whole group of people suddenly feel that they are not part of this country at all…. I think this is a national disaster.”Sen’s cautionary words have in fact caused much disquiet amongst the RSS and BJP leaders.
In an interview to a national news agency in Calcutta, Sen commented on whether Mamata Banerjee had the ability to become the next Prime Minister. “It’s not that she does not have the ability to do it. She clearly has the ability,” Sen said. “On the other hand, it’s yet not established that Mamata can pull the forces of public dismay against the BJP in an integrated way to make it possible for her to have the leadership to put an end to the fractionalisation in India.”
Chakraborty has opened a fresh front against Sen, but he ought to realise that this will simply lower the already dented prestige of Modi and his coterie among the intellectuals, academics and people of the country. The Visva Bharati VC has even threatened Sen that “action under law would be taken by the university if measures were not taken on the part of Sen”at the earliest.
Interestingly, while the deputy registrar of the university has told Sen, “It has been found from records and physical survey/demarcation that you are in unauthorised occupation of 13 decimals of land belonging to Visva Bharati”, the district administration’s finding goes against the claim by the university. Sources maintain: “There is no record to prove that the family was given only 125 decimals of land on lease. We have already prepared a report on the basis of available land records and sent it to the highest authorities in the state government.”
According to the land record document sourced by the district administration, Ashutosh Sen was given 138 decimals of land on a long-term lease by Visva Bharati. An internal inquiry by the Birbhum district administration has debunked Visva Bharati’s allegation that the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is illegally occupying land. The assessment is based on land records relating to the plot leased out to Amartya Sen’s family by Visva Bharati in 1943, two years after the death of Tagore, who brought the economist’s maternal grandfather, Kshitimohon Sen, to the campus in 1908. The central university contends that only 125 decimals, not 138 decimals, were leased out to the Sen family. The varsity has also warned him of “embarrassment” if he fails to return the land.
Meanwhile, Sen said that charges should be backed by evidence. Sen said: “If a person who cannot differentiate between truth and lies takes over as the Visva Bharati Vice Chancellor, that is a sad situation. I don’t know why the Vice Chancellor (Bidyut Chakraborty) is targeting me”.
District administration official say: “While conducting the inquiry, we found another land record, dating back to the early 1970s, which also establishes Ashutosh Sen as the lessee of a 138-decimal plot in Santiniketan…. We don’t know what the basis of Visva Bharati’s claim is, as these land records are sacrosanct for us.”
Sen on his part is getting ready for a legal battle. His lawyer would send a letter to the Visva Bharati administration in response to the university’s communication that accused him of unauthorised occupation of 13-decimal land on the campus.
Most of the people on the campus see the move as a “ploy” to harass Sen, a critic of Narendra Modi, the chancellor of the university. They also accuse Chakraborty of trying to saffronise the university. Ironically, even before sending the letter to Sen, and obtaining full-proof documentary evidence, the university administration has named Sen as an encroacher.
On his part, Sen had replied to vice-chancellor Chakraborty’s letter saying that the allegation against him was false, asking him to withdraw it. Sen had described the attempt to list him as an “encroacher” as “a crude attempt at harassment — or worse”.
Chakraborty has always been under controversy whether it is for disciplinary actions against students, teachers and non-teaching staff or his stand against other residents. He has been in a tight spot since a letter signed by renowned academics, including Noam Chomsky, reached President Droupadi Murmu pointing out how a series of punitive actions against students and teachers has vitiated the academic atmosphere on the campus.
Supriya Tagore, great grandson of Rabindranath Tagore’s elder brother Satyendranath Tagore, said: “I can’t believe that VisvaBharati is accusing Amartya Sen of such a petty issue as land encroachment. Do we have to believe now that a person of the stature of Sen has encroached on land? There is no comparison between Amartya Sen and the people levelling such dirty charges at him.”
Meanwhile, the state government had already taken up the issue and has directed the Birbhum district administration to initiate necessary steps. Sen has also written to the university authorities to withdraw false allegation that his family is in “illegal” possession of land. He also mentioned that his father had purchased free-hold land from the market and not from Visva-Bharati – to add to their homestead and he has been paying taxes for them. “This sudden abuse of an 80-year-old document is clearly a crude attempt at harassment or worse,” Sen has said. (IPA Service)