Mamata Banerjee today wrote to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen expressing support for him in a controversy over reports that he is on the Visva Bharati University’s list of illegal plot holders. Some “nouveau invaders” were raising baseless allegations, the Bengal Chief Minister said in the letter addressed to “Amartya da“.
Expressing “surprise and anguish”, Mamata Banerjee spoke about the renowned economist’s deep links with Santiniketan, home to the Visva Bharati University established by Rabindranath Tagore.
“Some nouveau invaders in Visva Bharati have started raising surprising and baseless allegations about your familial properties…This pains me, and I want to express my solidarity with you in your battles against bigotry of majoritarians in this country, the battles that have made you an enemy of these forces of untruth,” she wrote.
“We are all aware of your family’s deep and organic linkages with Santiniketan. Your maternal grandfather, the revered scholar Kshitijmohan Sen, was one of the early leading settlers in Santiniketan, while your father Ashutosh Sen, a noted educationist and public administrator, had his famed house Pratichi built in Santiniketan eight decades back. Yours has been a family weaved in the culture and fabric of Santiniketan, inalienably,” the letter said.
She urged Amartya Sen: “Count me as your sister and friend in your just war against intolerance and totalitarianism. Let us not be daunted by these untrue allegations and unfair attacks. We shall overcome.”
The letter was addressed to Amartya Sen’s Santiniketan address.
Many of Bengal’s icons have been dragged into the trenchant campaign for the state election four months away, for which the BJP has mounted an aggressive challenge to two-term Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The Chief Minister has accused the BJP of floating allegations against Amartya Sen because he is not inclined towards the party’s ideology. He has been publicly critical of the BJP-led government.
Reports say Visva Bharati has written to the state government alleging that dozens of its plots have been recorded wrongly and the list of unauthorised occupants includes Amartya Sen, who owns a family house “Pratichi” in Santiniketan, built by his maternal grandfather Kshitimohan Sen, a scholar and an associate of Tagore.
“I have immense respect for Amartya da. Do you believe Amartya Sen can occupy land? I offer my apology to Amartya da on behalf of Bengal,” Ms Banerjee told reporters on Thursday.
Alleging that the BJP was “changing history,” she said “One of the party’s leaders has said that Rabindranath Tagore was born in Santiniketan, having no idea that he was born at Jorasanko in Kolkata and founded Visva Bharati many years later. BJP is changing history and geography.”
Amartya Sen had responded to the allegations in an email reply to Times of India. He said he was aware “that Vice Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty of Visva-Bharati is busy arranging the ‘eviction of unauthorised occupation of leased land in the campus’ and that I have also been named in the list of occupants.”
The Visva-Bharati land, he said, was on a long-term lease, “which is nowhere near its expiry, but the vice-chancellor can always dream about evicting anyone he wants.”