At the centre of a raging row over his family being in “illegal” possession of land at Visva Bharati, a livid Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has accused its vice chancellor of acting at the behest of the Centre “with its growing control over Bengal”.
Mr Sen was born in 1933 at Shantiniketan, which is home to Visva-Bharati, the university founded by Rabindranath Tagore, another Nobel prize recipient and literary giant from Bengal.
Mr Sen, in a media statement late Friday, said the entire land occupied by him on the hallowed campus was registered on a long-term lease that was nowhere close to expiry.
“I could comment on the big gap between Shantiniketan culture and that of the V.C., empowered as he is by the central government in Delhi with its growing control over Bengal,” Mr Sen wrote.
A huge controversy had erupted on Thursday, the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the centenary celebrations of Visva-Bharati when media reported that the university has written to the West Bengal government alleging dozens of land parcels owned by it were wrongfully recorded in the names of private parties including Mr Sen.
These people had set up restaurants, schools and other businesses on its land, the varsity said, according to the report.
Referring to the reports, Mr Sen said Visva-Bharati authorities had never complained to him or his family about any irregularity in holding the land.
The Nobel laureate asserted that the Visva Bharati land on which his house stands is on a long-term lease, which is nowhere near its expiry.
“Additional land was bought by my father as free hold and registered in land records under mouja Surul,” he said. A freehold land is a land parcel over which the owner has complete control for perpetuity.
“I would prefer to use Indian laws as they exist. For mental strength, I may clutch the beautiful old picture of our home by Abanindranath Tagore, among others,” he said.
Abanindranath was a nephew of Rabindranath Tagore and a famed painter of the Bengal School of Art. Amartya Sen’s maternal grandfather Kshitimohan Sen was a pupil at Shantiniketan that evolved into a university over time, and was honoured with ”Deshikottam”, a coveted award, in 1952. Kshitimohan Sen was the award’s first recipient.
On media reports about the VC’s claim to the faculty that Sen had called him up deprecating eviction of hawkers who sell their wares in front of his house ”Pratichi”, Mr Sen said.
“He would be spared the necessity of inventing completely imagined conversations with me, beginning impossibly with me introducing myself as ”Bharat Ratna” something that no one has ever heard me do”.
Taking a swipe at Mr Chakrabarty, Amartya Sen called him “an inventive artist”.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had reacted angrily to the media reports on Thursday, saying, “Because of his ideological anti-BJP stance, Amartyada has been subjected to such vicious attack by the present authorities of university.
“I respect Amartya da. Do you believe Amartya Sen has occupied land? I am offering apology to Amartya da on behalf of Bengal,” Ms Banerjee said.
She also wrote a letter to Sen and asked him to consider her a “sister and friend” in his war against “intolerance and totalitarianism”.
BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh had Friday cautioned Sen against being “used” by people with political interests.
“We may disagree with him ideologically, but we have respect for him. We urge him not to be (allowed to be) used by anti-development political forces in West Bengal,” Mr Ghosh said.
The US-based economist, an icon of Bengali achievement on world stage, has often been critical of the Narendra Modi government’s economic policies.