‘This is evidence of uncivilised behaviour,’ says Nobel laureate Amartya Sen as the BJP’s West Bengal unit targets him over an issue involving land in Visva-Bharati University

Published : December 26, 2020 21:48 IST

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s name has been dragged into the bitter political battle between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal.

After authorities at Visva-Bharati University allegedly included Sen among those illegally occupying land that belongs to the Central university, a war of words broke out between the Trinamool and the BJP. While West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee apologised publicly to Amartya Sen on behalf of the people of the State, Dilip Ghosh, BJP State president and Lok Sabha MP, said that the Nobel laureate should not be the spokesperson of any particular party or ideology.

Mamata Banerjee said at a press conference:, “The whole world respects Amartya Sen. Every single person in Bengal feels proud of him. He got us the Nobel prize…. Do you really believe that Amartya Sen can illegally occupy land in Santiniketan? …Those who are making these allegations have no right to insult a person like Amartya Sen. Just because he is ideologically against the BJP, allegations are being made about him. The people of Bengal will not tolerate it. This is not just an insult to Amartya da, but all of us.”

Later, she wrote to the Nobel laureate, expressing her solidarity with him. “Some nouveau invaders in Visva-Bharati have now started raising surprising and completely baseless allegations about your familial properties etc. This pains me, and I want to express my solidarity with you in your battles against the bigotry of the majoritarians in this country, the battles that made you an enemy of these forces of untruth,” she wrote. She asked Sen to “count me in as your sister and friend in your just war against intolerance and totalitarianism”.

Amartya Sen finally broke his silence on the matter: “People can see that the Centre wants to increase its influence in West Bengal, and one of the tools to do that with is the Vice Chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty [of Visva-Bharati University] … Till now I have not received a single letter. There is only talk in the media. This is evidence of uncivilised behavior. I believe there are good reasons to condemn this kind behavior. I am very happy that the Chief Minister also thinks so.”

Pointing out that his house was built in 1940, Amartya Sen wondered why such an issue was being raised after 50 years. “After 50 years they are saying that there is something wrong with the house. How did you discover that? What is the proof? Do you have the necessary papers? I have certainly talked to my lawyers. I will not do anything now, but I will certainly act on it when they tell me what the issue is,” said Sen to a TV channel. He said that there may be political reasons behind the “war” that is being waged from the office of the Vice Chancellor of Visva-Bharati. “I have often been the target of criticism for the political party to whom Bidyut babu is beholden to,” said Sen.

Reacting to Sen’s comments, Dilip Ghosh said: “We do not expect anything from him [Amartya Sen]. We respect him, but he should not become the spokesperson of any group. The country is proud of him and his words should be of that stature. If he talks on behalf of a party or an ideology, then we will think whether the award [the Nobel Prize] was given to the wrong person.”

This is not the first time that the authorities at Visva-Bharati have dragged Amartya Sen’s name into controversies. Earlier, on December 9, Vice Chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty, during a meeting with faculty members, claimed that Amartya Sen had called him up and, introducing himself as “Bharat Ratna Amartya Sen”, had requested him to not evict the hawkers around his house as it would inconvenience his family. Sudipta Bhattacharyya, professor in the Department of Economics and Politics, had written to Sen apprising him of what Chakraborty had claimed in the meeting. In his reply to Sudipta Bhattarcharya, Sen denied having any such conversation with Chakrabory: “I do not think I have had such a conversation with him. I should also mention that I have never referred to myself as ‘Bharat Ratna’.”

Sudipta Bhattacharya was subsequently served with a show-cause notice by the authorities for allegedly divulging to the media what was discussed at the meeting on December 9. According to Sudipta Bhattacharya, aspects of the meeting were discussed in an internal letter that he had forwarded to his colleagues in his capacity as the president of the Visva-Bharati University Faculty Association (VBUFA). According to sources in the university, the VBUFA is contemplating challenging the show-cause notice in a court of law.