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BJP – TMC Slugfest over Land Allocation to Amartya Sen

BJP – TMC Slugfest over Land Allocation to Amartya Sen

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Feb 2: The alleged dispute over a tiny piece land allotment involving two Nobel Laureates has turned into a political slugfest between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.

The Vishva Bharati University, Shantiniketan, in Birbhum district, set up by the Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore is alleged to have become a political hotbed of the BJP. What began as a row over the University’s allegation that another Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen had illegally occupied land has now turned into a full-blown political battle, with the university issuing a statement against the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

In a press statement, the university said, “Visva Bharati is a central university. We are better off without your blessings because we are used to the margdarshan (guidance) of the Prime Minister.” Since independence, the chancellor of the Vishva Bharati University is the prime minister and not the state governor as is the case with other universities.

The statement was signed by Visva-Bharati spokesperson Mahua Banerjee.  In a forthright attack on the chief minister, the statement said, “We would like to request the chief minister to stop seeing through her ears and use her brain. Your favourite disciple (Anubrata Mondal), without whom you cannot imagine Birbhum, is also languishing in jail,” the statement said.

The statement was in response to Banerjee’s hitting out at the university authorities for accusing Amartya Sen of illegally occupying land. Mamata Banerjee handed over state government records showing that the piece of land under dispute was indeed given to Amartya Sen’s father Ashutosh Sen and there was no illegal occupation as alleged by the university.

Visiting Sen at his Shantiniketan residence ‘Pratichi’, Banerjee handed over a state land and revenue department record, which states that 1.38 acres of land covered by the economist’s ancestral property belongs to him by virtue of a mutation executed in 2006.

“I want to tell the truth based on information and that’s why I have rushed here. You can say, for the disrespect meted out to him, I am handing over these papers to Respected Amartya Sen. In the future, the BJP should not try to disrespect him like this and some pro-BJP saffronised personalities also should not do this is what I have to say,” the Chief Minister told reporters after meeting the Nobel Laureate.

Mamata Banerjee said Vishva-Bharati University should focus on running the university and not target students to indulge in saffronisation, without naming the Vice-Chancellor who claims he did not mean to disrespect Amartya Sen while questioning his Nobel Prize. Mamata Banerjee had also met protesting students of Visva-Bharati University assuring them of all help to end the campus unrest.

“We all have a responsibility to protest and save Visva-Bharati. Rabindranath Tagore’s ideas of education in the open amongst nature. If someone thinks they can saffronise students, professors by use of force, then remember that even if no one stands by them, I am with them,” she said. Mamata Banerjee also asked the university to apologise to Amartya Sen.

Earlier, Bidyut Chakrabarty, Vice-Chancellor of Vishva Bharati University had told reporters, “We have handed over a letter to him and our allegation is that the land that was allotted to him according to the land deed is 1.25 acres but he claims1.38 acres.

The Vishva-Bharati University (VBU) had in December 2020 named Sen in a list of illegal occupants on its campus in Shantiniketan. Then in January this year, the university and Sen exchanged letters on the issue, after which the CM stepped in.

Banerjee also announced Z+ security for Sen. Without naming the Vishva-Bharati’s Vice-Chancellor, she strongly criticised him, talking about the “saffronisation” of the university.

“I have been silently watching how an eminent citizen was being insulted all these days. I asked my officers to get the land records. I gave him proof that the land was transferred to his father in 1943. No man in the garb of the BJP should insult Amartya Sen. We look at Visva-Bharati through the eyes of Tagore, not through a saffron lens,” said Banerjee.

Visva-Bharati recently released a statement saying that “the information and documents shared with Prof Sen vide our letters dated 24-01-2023 and 27-01-2023 make it amply clear that 1.38-acre land was never leased to late Ashutosh Sen [Amartya’s father]. Only 1.25-acre land was leased to late Ashutosh Sen. Following the application dated 31-10-2005 (which was supported by probated will of late Ashutosh Sen and other documents), lease of only 1.25 acre land was mutated in his favour, for the residual period of lease tenure, as permitted by the Executive Council of the University in its meeting dated 03-09-2006.”

Amartya Sen’s maternal grandfather Kshitimohan Sen, a Sanskrit scholar of repute, was invited to Santiniketan by Rabindranath Tagore in 1908. He played a key role in building the Visva-Bharati — set up in 1921 — along with Tagore. Sen, born in 1933, was named Amartya by Tagore.

On the university campus, plots were given to many eminent persons on a 99-year lease since the time of Tagore. Sen grew up in Pratichi, the house built by his father, and visits it frequently.

Kshitimohan Sen was the second Vice-Chancellor of Visva Bharati. Sen’s father, Ashutosh Sen, was a professor at the university, and he purchased sections of the land at the centre of the dispute. Visva-Bharati authorities on January 24 issued a letter to Sen, asking him to hand over parts of the plot. On January 27, the university issued a second letter with the same demand.

“You are in possession of 1.38 acres of land which is in excess of your legal entitlement of 1.25 acres. Kindly return the land to Visva-Bharati as early as possible since the application of the laws of the land will cause embarrassment to you and also to Visva-Bharati which you endear so much,” read the letter dated January 27.

Sen wrote to Visva-Bharati V-C Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty two days later, saying that his father had purchased the free-hold land from the market and not from Visva-Bharati, and they have been paying taxes for it. He also sent a legal notice to the V-C, asking him to withdraw “your false allegation made to the news agencies that a plot of land owned by Visva-Bharati is unlawfully occupied by me.”

He further wrote in the letter, “To measure the area of our homestead, Pratichi, to compare with the long term lease of land taken by my father in 1940 from Visva-Bharati… This sudden abuse of an 80-year-old document is clearly a crude attempt at harassment or worse.”

He also said, “Among other errors it ignores the big fact, which I have stated many times (even in the context of this dispute), that a substantial amount of free-hold land was purchased by my father (in the market — not from Visva-Bharati) to add to our homestead on which khajna and Panchayat taxes are paid by me yearly.”

When the university first named Sen among illegal occupants in 2020, Mamata had backed the Nobel laureate. After that, in August 2022, some leaders of the TMC were unhappy with Sen when he when he said he would not be able to accept the state government’s Banga Bibhusan award because he was out of the country, but accepted the Muzaffar Ahmad Memorial Prize at a CPM event weeks later.

However, this year, the party warmed up to him again after Sen said Banerjee had the ability to become India’s next Prime Minister. Soon after Sen’s interview, Banerjee, speaking to a news channel, responded, “Amartya Sen is a world-renowned intellectual. His insights show us the path. His advice is an order for us. His evaluation of the present situation of the country should be taken seriously by everyone.”

Just after Sen’s statement on Banerjee, the land dispute row flared up again, and the TMC claimed this was because “Sen became an enemy of the University as he praised Banerjee”.

The CM’s nephew and TMC General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee said, “The statement made by the Vice-Chancellor of Visva Bharati is extremely unfortunate. The main reason behind the move was that Amartya Sen had praised Mamata Banerjee. The BJP leaders cannot accept this, which is why they are targeting him.”

The BJP says Amartya Sen should not get involved in this kind of controversy. BJP National General Secretary Dilip Ghosh told reporters, “Amartya Sen is an icon to many people and he should not get involved in this kind of controversy. If there is any truth in this, he should himself come forward and declare it.”




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