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Shift in Atmosphere at Visva Bharati University as Controversial Former VC's Tenure Concludes

Bidyut Chakraborty courted controversy during his tenure as the VC several times for a number of reasons.
Visva Bharati

Image courtesy: The Telegraph

Kolkata: Visva Bharati University (VBU) witnessed a shift in the collective mood as many stakeholders, including professors, students, and non-teaching staff, expressed relief with the conclusion of “controversial” former VC Bidyut Chakraborty's tenure. The change in leadership has instilled optimism for a more inclusive and constructive environment.

Students said that the university community looked forward to addressing challenges under the interim leadership of Prof Sanjoy Mullick, the acting VC.

During his tenure as the VC of the central university established by Rabindranath Tagore, Chakraborty gained notoriety for creating a restrictive atmosphere on the university premises. His frequent suspension of professors and students, coupled with television interviews that targeted Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, drew significant criticism.

Talking to NewsClick, VBU Faculty Association’s president Sudipto Bhattacharya said, “The new lease of life was much needed amid the university's fall from the 11th to the 98th position in NIRF rankings among Indian universities. Prof Chakraborty's tenure created a turbulent atmosphere, marked by suspension notices affecting over 12% of the university's professors. Prior to his departure, he gave a disparaging interview about me on a local TV channel, leading me to file an FIR against this character assassination.” The FIR against Bidyut Chakraborty was lodged on November 4, four days before he stepped down from his position.

“Now, the danger stems from the fact that the former VC is not vacating his official accommodation at Purbita and is enjoying the benefits accorded to a VC. With his set of administrators whom he had chosen for the post, he is trying to create a parallel administration. He is occupying the space on the VBU premises saying that this is because police cases are pending against him,” alleged Bhattacharya. Notably, at least eight police cases remain pending against the former VC, including serious charges like molestation of a woman.

Police had issued notices to the former VC to appear in person at the local police station for the investigation into the cases. However, he received a breather from the High Court, which allowed him to face the questioning at his residence rather than at a police station.

It can also be recalled that the Kolkata High Court had earlier called for the removal of the VC for getting his own professor out of an international science project last year.

Speaking to NewsClick, an ashram resident, who chose not to reveal their name, said that Prof Chakraborty had criticised the Ashramiks of Shantiniketan, branding them a “disgrace to Tagore's cultural legacy”. “Additionally, he installed a plaque, intentionally omitting Tagore's name, declaring the place a World Heritage site, prominently featuring his own name and that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” he said.

The Union Ministry of Education has now issued orders for the removal of the plaque and has decided to mention only the name of Tagore in the official plaque declaring the place as a World Heritage site.

Chakraborty courted controversy during his tenure as the VC for a number of reasons: for his derogatory remarks about the tourists and the tourist-related infrastructure at Shantiniketan, for issuing show-cause notices to as many as 160 faculty and staff members [about 12% of all staff members on the roster of VBU] between January 2019 and April 2022 and suspending the general secretary of the Karmi Sabha (Staff Association).

Around 260 university professors, researchers, and journalists spread across the US, the UK, Colombia, Canada, and France had written an open letter to Indian President Droupadi Murmu, urging her to revoke the suspension of Somnath Sou, a Dalit student activist associated with the Student Federation of India (SFI).

Sou was suspended for taking a stand against the “draconian rule of the vice chancellor of Visva Bharati University and his design to malign Nobel laureate Amartya Sen”.

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