Amartya Sen-Visva Bharati row over sliver of land turns into political slugfest

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Amartya Sen-Visva Bharati row over sliver of land turns into political slugfest

The issue is just 13 decimals of land. But that piece of land within the premises of the iconic Visva Bharati University at Bolpur-Santiniketan in Birbhum district of West Bengal, which was founded by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, has led to a bitter political slugfest involving Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen.
 

Kolkata: The issue is just 13 decimals of land. But that piece of land within the premises of the iconic Visva Bharati University at Bolpur-Santiniketan in Birbhum district of West Bengal, which was founded by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, has led to a bitter political slugfest involving Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen.

It started when the vice chancellor of Visva Bharati University, Bidyut Chakraborty started accusing Sen of illegally occupying 1.38 acres of land which is in excess of his legal entitlement of 1.25 acres. However, the Nobel laureate refuted the allegation claiming the original 1.25 acres was gifted to his grandfather late Kshitimohan Sen who was the second vice- chancellor of Visva Bharati University. Later Sen’s father late Asutosh Sen, who was also a professor with the same university, purchased the remaining 13 decimals of land, which is at the centre of the dispute.

Till the beginning of last month the row between the university vice-chancellor and the Nobel laureate was within some basic limits of decency, restricted to two-way communication. However, things changed last month when Sen in an interview acknowledged the quality of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to occupy the chair of the Prime Minister of the country.

A political hullabaloo erupted over this observation of Sen, ignoring his supplementary observations on this point.

While Sen’s acknowledgment of the quality of the chief minister was highlighted, his related observations where he expressed doubts about how far Mamata Banerjee would be a uniting factor for the anti-BJP opposition were totally ignored. Later Sen explained that although he acknowledged the quality of Mamata Banerjee on this count he never said that she was the only political leader possessing such quality.

In the midst of the debate between the different political parties over Sen’s observation, Bidyut Chakraborty made a re-entry with his attacks against Sen this time being more vociferous and personal in nature.

Besides sending notices to Sen to vacate the reportedly excess land or come to a settlement, the V-C started giving media bytes attacking the Nobel laureate. Besides describing Sen as “an illegal occupant despite being a scholar,” the V-C raised questions about his Nobel award. He claimed that Sen is not actually a Nobel laureate, but rather a recipient of an award somewhat equivalent to that.

BJP’s national vice-president and Lok Sabha member Dilip Ghosh echoed Bidyut Chakraborty claiming that he was the first one to point out that Sen was actually not a Nobel laureate. Sen reacted to the allegation by saying that everyone has the right to his or her opinion.

As this clash was going on, Mamata Banerjee reached Sen’s residence at Bolpur-Santiniketan on January 30 and handed over to him the land holding records of the state Land & Land Reforms Department, which shows his legal entitlement over the entire 1.38 acres of land that he is occupying. She also described the developments as a “definite attempt by a section of the educationists to saffronise everything and insult the Nobel laureate.”

Just a couple of days later, the university’s chief public relations officer Mahua Ganguly issued a statement accusing the chief minister “of seeing through her ears”. In the statement it was also said that the university would be better off without the chief minister’s blessings as it is walking on the path shown by the Prime Minister.

Calcutta High Court counsel Kaushik Gupta feels that the reaction of the vice-chancellor was not only eccentric but also a kind of disregard towards the legal system of the country. “If the university authorities feel that their point is correct on this count, they have every right to approach the court and adopt the legal discourse. But instead of doing that the university vice-chancellor is making an attempt to develop a public opinion about the globally-acclaimed economist and educationist. As a legal practitioner for a long time I wonder whether there is any legal sanctity to these claims of unauthorized occupation,” Gupta said.

Educationist Pabitra Sarkar said that the award in economics is given by the Nobel committee and hence Bidyut Chakraborty’s argument on this count does not stand. “Professor Sen’s contribution as an economist has been acclaimed by all reputed global universities and study centres. His knowledge and achievements cannot be quantified by an award just as Rabindra Nath Tagore’s greatness cannot be quantified by his Nobel award,” Sarkar said.

He also slammed the statement issued by the university accusing the chief minister “of seeing through her ears”.

“This cannot be the language of a statement from a university. What had the chief minister done? She just went to Professor Sen’s residence to handover the legal papers,” said Sarkar, known for his leftist beliefs.


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