Visva-Bharati University’s theme song ~ Amader Santiniketan ~ has seldom been more jarring. As the institution lurches from crisis to crisis, it reflects poorly on the Vice-Chancellor when he threatens to close the university “before I leave”.
Professor Bidyut Chakraborty, political scientist of Delhi University, hastens to add that “I am not threatening”. It is a reflection too of his stewardship and the virtual collapse of the administration that “here nobody works and almost everybody is only interested in seeking full salary”. Going by the yardstick of sloth, this central university has surpassed the average sarkari office in West Bengal, most particularly under the incumbent VC’s tenure.
That said, it must be conceded that the state government has at best only a tangential interest in the affairs of the central institution. It is hard not to wonder whether Tagore’s legacy has been trashed fair and square when Prof Chakraborty admits in a rare moment of candour that “Visva-Bharati University has become a haven for thieves and dacoits”.
Without going into details, the VC says he has taken action already against “three thieves, the first Vice- Chancellor ever to do so.” Wholly unrelated to the academic narrative is his sniper attack on the Trinamul president of Birbhum district, Anubrata Mondal ~ “He is mad,” though Mamata Banerjee had once complimented him as bhalo cheley (good boy). Visva-Bharati has of late been mired in a controversy too many.
The VC had stoked disputes when he claimed that Rabindranath Tagore was an “outsider”. And that Amartya Sen had encroached upon the land that belongs to Visva-Bharati. Actually, however, Pratichi, the name of Sen’s residence in Santiniketan, was built by his father, Asutosh Sen, and the task of measuring the land and drawing a conclusion devolves on Bolpur municipality. And yet Pratichi was at the centre of a bitter controversy some months ago. It would be facetious to blame Sen for the emergence of roadside vendors whose merchandise is up for sale in the area. Such vendors, now integral to the rural and urban landscape, are no less active in the vicinity of Rabindra Bhavan, a property of the university.
The ashramites, the long-time Santiniketan residents in general, and faculties have been vehement in their objection to the construction of boundary walls on the campus, thus impeding the movement of people. This week, a fortnight before Doljatra, the VC stoked yet another controversy by advancing the date of Vasant Utsav.
The decision is based on the seemingly cogent logic that the crowds might spur the spread of Covid and thus hasten the second surge in rural Bengal. That said, advancing the event cannot minimise spread. Furthermore, there was no call for a sudden announcement. In its centenary year, Visva- Bharati University must of necessity be riveted to matters academic. The Vice-Chancellor ought to be aware that the university has slipped in the list of the country’s best institutions. He needs to rescue Visva- Bharati from the rut.