Countrywide stir turning Santiniketan into fertile ground for student politics


Visva-Bharati, the university founded by Rabindranath Tagore nearly a century ago, does not have a students’ union but agitations across the country appears to have emboldened its student leaders. They are organising themselves to take on the authorities, something that could transform the famous institution into a hotbed of Left-wing student politics.

On Wednesday, they locked up BJP ideologue Swapan Dasgupta, who had come to deliver a lecture on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), for nearly six hours and let him out only late in the night. Such aggression is quite uncharacteristic of Santiniketan. Now they are demanding an apology from Vice Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty for what they call “saffronisation” of the institution.

Mr. Chakrabarty, when he took over as the Vice Chancellor in November 2018, initiated a lecture series under which, every month, an eminent personality is invited to speak on the subject of his or her choice. Students and many teachers accuse him of inviting mainly right-wing speakers, often without the approval of a five-member committee that’s supposed to be consulted on the choice of the speakers. Last month, the speaker was Meghalaya Governor Tathagata Roy.

Sudipta Bhattacharyya, president of Visva-Bharati Faculty Association, said that even though he is part of the committee, he was never told specifically that it was Mr. Dasgupta who was coming to deliver the lecture. “The committee has met only once so far and is always kept in the dark about the identity of the speakers. What’s the point, then, in having such a committee?” Mr. Bhattacharyya told The Hindu.

The university, however, rejected these accusations. “It was widely publicised that Mr. Dasgupta was coming to deliver the lecture. CAA is a burning subject, students are making noise about it without even understanding what it is all about, which is why we held the lecture. It was an open house, anyone could have walked in and placed their point of view during the question and answer session, but they chose to hold protests and lock us up,” Visva-Bharati PRO Anirban Sircar told this reporter.

When asked if the university would take action against the protesting students, he said, “They are our students, like our children. If children make a mistake, we should make them understand why they are wrong instead of penalising them.”

But student leaders — most of them belonging to Leftist outfits — appear to be preparing for a long haul. According to one of the leaders, Falguni Pan of the Revolutionary Students’ Front, students were meeting on Thursday to decide their road map. They intend to submit a memorandum to the Vice Chancellor with a list of their demands, which include the formation of a students’ union and stopping of “saffronisation” of the institution set up by Tagore.

“If the demands are not met, our protests will continue,” Mr. Pan said. ‘Won’t protests hamper studies?’ “Protests are a way of taking students’ grievances to the authorities. We don’t see them as a hurdle. Moreover, the atmosphere in Santiniketan is such that studies are never hampered,” he said.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 5:28:19 AM |

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