By Arun Srivastava
The strategy of the vice chancellor of Vishwa Bharati University, Bidyut Chakraborty, has crossed the line of decency. Chakraborty who has, for more than six months, been tirelessly working to evict Amartya Sen from the premises of Shantiniketan on April 20 shoot off yet another notice to Sen asking him to “vacate or face eviction”, in case he fails to vacate the 13 decimal plot of land by May 6. Nonetheless Sen on his part is determined to challenge the VU action in court. Chakraborty hardening his stance has made the intellectuals and academics to believe that VC should not have done this without endorsement of Narendra Modi who is the Chancellor of VU.
Significantly the West Bengal government this January had handed over the documents to Sen which clearly showed that the entire 138 decimals (and not 125 decimals as claimed by the university) belonged to his family. The operation to evict Sen from the land has been undertaken while Sen is away in UK. He had already informed the University officials that he would be coming to Calcutta in June. But impatient to carry out the dictate the Vice Chancellor is not willing to wait till June.
Chakraborty’s latest action has made the Bengali intellectuals, academics and social activists frazzled. They find it hard to believe that a person holding the post of vice chancellor could stoop so low to humiliate and insult Sen. They see a definite plot behind his move, as he has resorting to this tactics even after the land ownership has been settled by the state government and Sen has been handed over the papers of right over the land. These celebrities nurse that more than reflecting intolerance, this symbolises the obstinacy of those in power to humiliate and insult him and trample the reputation and legacy of Sen’s forefathers.
Vice Chancellor sending his staff to paste a notice to this effect on the boundary wall of ‘Pratichi’, Sen’s ancestral home, is cited as the manifestation of this plan. While the Bengalis feel proud of Amartya Sen’s achievement, getting Nobel Award, the Vice Chancellor, himself being a Bengali has been busy vilifying him. Outrageously some three months back he had come out with a statement that Sen never got a Nobel Award. He was however strongly rebutted by score of academics and intellectuals.
On April 17 Sen in a letter to the joint registrar and estate officer of Vishwa-Bharati, wrote; “The use of the land has remained the same over this long period, in fact, 80 years… The magistrate of the area has noted that the existing arrangement should be recognised and that no interference or breach of peace should be allowed. I will be back in Shantiniketan in June”.
Nonetheless the academics, intellectuals and social activists strongly hold the notion that it is politics and certainly not land, that Amartya Sen is being targeted. Sen has been a known critic of Narendra Modi and RSS. He has been openly expressing his anti-Modi views. On January 15 this year in an interview Sen had described Modi government as one of the most appalling in the world. He had observed; ‘This govt treats its own people in a nasty way, neglecting the justice and fairness that should come to people of different ancestry’.
In reply to a question from Karan Thapar, he had 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.” Referring to Muslims, he had said; “That language is a reflection of an understanding of the Indian nation that is very distorted indeed.…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.”
Sen had been highly critical of November 2016 demonetisation, the implementation of the GST, the Citizenship Amendment Act and the political use of the National Register of Citizens. The Modi government nursed a hostile attitude towards him from the days he was the Chancellor of Nalanda University. All these developments had made Modi government to target him.
On the Citizenship Amendment Act, Sen said: “As far as I can see, one of the BJP’s purposes (by implementing the new citizenship regime) is to reduce the role of minorities and make them less important and, in a direct and indirect way, increase the role of the Hindu majoritarian forces in India and to that extent undermine the minorities. It’s very unfortunate for a country like India which is meant to be a secular, egalitarian nation and it has also been used for particularly unfortunate discriminatory action like declaring minorities, whether from Bangladesh or West Bengal, as foreign rather than indigenous. This is pretty demeaning and I would regard that to be a bad move basically.”
This developments leave little scope not to suspect that the rightist forces have out to humiliate him and force Sen to leave his ancestral house. On April 27, Association for Protection of Social Dignity (Samajik Marjada Surakha Samiti) , a platform of academics and notables, passed a resolution condemning Vishwa Bharati’s ‘disrespectful’ conduct.
Speakers did not mince words to criticise Chakraborty’s action. They hold “the question of land dispute is merely secondary. That issue can be settled by the courts. The real issue is political. It’s an issue of launching an attack on Prof Sen’s political, social and economic standings, albeit in a covert manner”. They expressed surprise at the silence maintained on the unfortunate development by Modi, the Chancellor of Vishwa Bharati. One of the speakers said; “His silence on perturbing issues such as this one also seems to be a reflection of the current crisis which confronts this nation.”
Mamata Banerjee has decided to resort to sit-in outside Pratichi if authorities tried to “bulldoze” the property. Accusing “harassment and humiliation” of Sen, over 120 personalities from Bengal recently wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi; “The kind of behaviour by an esteemed university like Vishwa Bharati is unexpected and appalling. We condemn this harassment, humiliation, and misdemeanour against a respected economist. Sen inherited the leased land and now the varsity is set to evict the economist from his ancestral home, which is an insult at its lowest for all Bengalis, Indians in front of the entire world”. For some of the intellectuals and academics, this action is direct attack on Bengali pride.
Reminding the authorities of Sen’s illustrious association with the varsity, the resolution read: “It is indeed incredible that instead of treating him with the appropriate respect and honour, the present dispensation ruling over the institution has been relentlessly harassing Prof Sen in various ways. It also dishonours the society of Bengal as a whole and forces all self respecting members of this society to hang their heads in shame before the entire world.”
Modi’s contempt to the feelings of the Bengali people and his obstinacy towards Sen will certainly have a major impact on the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. (IPA Service)