On Monday, nearly 400 people march to varsity’s central office, demanding reversal of suspension of Sudipta Bhattacharyya, a vocal critic of VC
Visva-Bharati, the Rabindranath Tagore-founded institution celebrating its centenary, has come to symbolise essentially a clash between the right-wing and the left-wing in West Bengal, where elections are due in April.
On Monday, nearly 400 people marched to the central office of the university, demanding reversal of the suspension of Sudipta Bhattacharyya, a vocal critic of the Vice Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty. Even though the march was held under the banner of Right to Education Forum, a large number of participants belonged to the Students’ Federation of India and to mainstream political parties — the Left Front and the Congress — and they were open about it.
“The procession consisted of students, former students and teachers. I participated as an ex-student, but it remains a fact that I belong to the CPI(M). We marched to the central office and pasted a notice demanding immediate revoking of the suspension of Professor Bhattacharyya and 10 other teachers,” said Goutam Ghosh, a member of the State Committee of the party.
“We also demanded withdrawal of show-cause notices served to as many as 84 employees. We want the functioning of the university to return to normal and to Tagore’s ideals. If that does not happen, we will suspend the Vice Chancellor,” Mr. Ghosh said.
Felicitation of Amit Shah
Political battle lines began to be drawn on the campus not long after the BJP came to power at the Centre. Visva-Bharati is a Central university — the only such university in West Bengal — and its Chancellor happens to be the Prime Minister himself. In 2015, a group of teachers formed the Visva-Bharati Shaikshik Sangh, a teachers’ body affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and ever since Professor Chakrabarty took charge as VC in November 2018, right-wing ideologues began to be invited as speakers at the university. And last month, Home Minister Amit Shah — even though the Home Minister has no statutory role in the institution — was feted by the authorities.
Justifying this unprecedented felicitation of the Home Minister, who was accompanied by hardcore political workers and who combined his Visva-Bharati visit with a political road show, a member of the RSS-affiliated teachers’ body had told this reporter at the time: “We are a Central university after all, and we also know that no matter who the Education Minister is, it is Amit Shah who calls the shots here.”
The conflict now appears to have reached a flashpoint with the suspension on January 7 of Professor Bhattacharyya, who heads the Visva-Bharati University Faculty Association and who has been instrumental in highlighting the disciplinary action taken against a large number of teachers in the recent months. On Sunday, 561 academics based across the world issued a joint statement against his suspension.
Though the Trinamool Congress, the party ruling West Bengal, didn’t participate in Monday’s march, its government recently withdrew the 2.9-km key road it had handed over the university a few years ago. The move coincided with the allegation made by the university that the ancestral home of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen — not an admirer of the Central government — stood on a plot of land that included illegal acquisitions.
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