The proposed distortion in the name of VisvaBharati University is arguably an insult to the memory of its founder, Rabindranath Tagore. Intrinsically, it has lengthened the loop of controversies in which the institution is mired.
Faced with the vehement opposition of teachers and long-time residents, pre-eminently ashramites, to the partial relocation of the campus from Santiniketan to Ramgarh in Uttarakhand, the routinely controversial Vice-Chancellor had suggested on Republic Day that the institution be renamed as Paschim Banga Bharati or Bolpur Bharati.
Prof Bidyut Chakraborty, the political scientist from Delhi University, has bared his angst with a tunnel-vision response to the academic circuit which, as reports suggest, is up in arms against the change of Visva-Bharati’s name. Not the least the name-change affidavit, so to speak, will represent a paradigm shift in the character of Visva-Bharati. The Uttarakhand campus is scheduled to start functioning from July.
The incumbent VC is alleged to have transformed the traditional atmosphere of “openness” at Visva-Bharati into one of fear. The functioning of academics has been hamstrung by suspension orders and showcause notices. The move to set up a second campus is also alleged to be a move by the Vice-Chancellor and the Centre to dilute the importance of Visva-Bharati. The proposed second campus is in the vicinity of Tagore’s favourite hilltop retreat in Uttarakhand, near Nainital. At least one former VC has underlined the fact that Visva-Bharati is still a global institution and “people from across the world know what Tagore wanted to do here”.
Prof Chakraborty’s comments would, therefore, seem to be somewhat derogatory. “Students from different parts of the country would come here because of Tagore’s legacy. Vice-Chancellor Chakraborty has destroyed that legacy,” was the highminded lament of an alumnus and retired teacher. Suffice it to register that there cannot be any compromise with the global character of the university. How many institutions are there in India where there are teachers of so many nationalities? This is the pivotal question that calls for reflection by the Vice-Chancellor.
Admittedly, there are no quick-fix solutions to the problems that all too often plague Visva-Bharati ~ the theft of Tagore’s Nobel medal from Rabindra Bhavan, the assault on a student at the girls’ hostel, the thoroughly unplanned erection of walls on the campus, and the surreptitious appointment of the relatively underqualified to faculties. These are but a few red herrings across the trail to higher studies at VisvaBharati; there are almost certainly many more.
Setting up of a second campus and a change of name can only obfuscate the core of the crisis, which as yet remains unaddressed. The theft of Tagore’s Nobel medal is a crime that has been hanging fire for the past 18 years (March 2004). The authorities must of necessity get to the root of the malaise. To rename Visva-Bharati University is at best a half-hearted attempt at self-preservation; at worst a cosmetic change that will not improve Visva-Bharati. It will reinforce the jarring note of the theme song, Amader Santiniketan.