West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday wrote to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen voicing support for him after reports emerged that the Visva Bharati University has mentioned him in a list of people with unauthorised plots of land within its premises, reported NDTV.
“Some nouveau invaders in Visva Bharati have started raising surprising and baseless allegations about your familial properties,” she wrote. “This pains me, and I want to express my solidarity with you in your battles against bigotry of majoritarians in this country, the battles that have made you an enemy of these forces of untruth.”
The letter came after the university reportedly wrote to the West Bengal government, detailing about a number of plots that have been wrongly recorded in favour of private parties. The list includes the name of Sen as his house, Pratichi, occupies around 138 decimals of land while the original lease was given on 125 decimals, The Telegraph reported.
In her letter, Banerjee noted that Sen’s family has had a rich history linked to the university.
“Your maternal grandfather, the revered scholar Kshitimohan Sen, was one of the early leading settlers in Santiniketan, while your father Ashutosh Sen, a noted educationist and public administrator, had his famed house Pratichi built in Santiniketan eight decades back,” Banerjee wrote. “Yours has been a family weaved in the culture and fabric of Santiniketan, inalienably.”
Rabindranath Tagore had invited Kshitimohan Sen, a Sanskrit scholar of repute, in 1908 and he played a key role in building the university, reported The Telegraph. Several plots of lands inside the university were given to eminent people on long-term lease.
Banerjee further wrote, referring to herself as Sen’s sister, “Count me as your sister and friend in your just war against intolerance and totalitarianism. Let us not be daunted by these untrue allegations and unfair attacks. We shall overcome.”
The matter has assumed political colour in the lead up to the Assembly elections in West Bengal, whose campaign has seen the Trinamool Congress accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party of being an “outsider party”, not aware of the state’s culture and icons.
“One of the party’s [BJP] leaders has said that Rabindranath Tagore was born in Santiniketan, having no idea that he was born at Jorasanko in Kolkata and founded Visva Bharati many years later,” Banerjee said on Friday, according to NDTV. “BJP is changing history and geography.”
Meanwhile responding to the matter, Sen has denied that his house was located on unauthorised land. “The Visva-Bharati land on which our house is situated is on a long-term lease, which is nowhere near its expiry,” he told The Times of India, in an e-mail. “But the vice chancellor can always dream about evicting anyone he wants.”
He also said that the university authority has not informed him about any such matter with the records of the land. “...I have also been named in the list of occupants, even though Visva Bharati has never complained about any irregularity of landholding to us,” he told The Telegraph.
He also referred to a cultural gap between that of Santiniketan and current Vice Chancellor of Visva Bharati University Bidyut Chakrabarty.
“Having been born and brought up in Santiniketan, I could comment on the big gap between Santiniketan culture and that of the VC, empowered as he is by the central government in Delhi, with its growing control over Bengal,” he said, according to The Telegraph. “I would prefer to use Indian laws as they exist.”