WEEKS AFTER Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Sushanta Dattagupta was sacked by the Union government over alleged irregularities, the varsity has invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend its convocation this year.
The last time the university had held a convocation was in 2008. It was attended by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Visva-Bharati is the only central university that has the Prime Minister as its Acharya or Chancellor.
While this allows Modi to attend the university’s convocation despite the model code of conduct being in place — the Election Commission of India on Friday announced Assembly poll dates for Bengal — Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee would not be able to do the same.
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“We have received the proposal… The central leadership has asked us to look into it. The PM wants to attend the event, but ahead of elections, political considerations need to be looked into,” said a state BJP leader.
When contacted, Visva-Bharati Pro-V-C Swapan Kumar Dutta said the university has been in “the news for the wrong reasons”.
Last month, V-C Sushanta Dattagupta had emailed his resignation to the President’s office, a few days after the Centre made damning observations about his conduct as the head of the institution. Dattagupta was appointed the V-C in 2011 by the UPA II government and still had a year left in his tenure.
As first reported by The Indian Express on September 22, last year, the HRD Ministry had sent its final report on the V-C to President Pranab Mukherjee, finding him guilty of gross misconduct and dereliction of duty. Dattagupta, however, resigned before a final decision could be taken. “In this entire controversy, the very essence of Visva-Bharati has been lost. Rabindranath Tagore had set up this university with a dream of internationalism and excellence… I find the Prime Minister’s vision for the nation fits in with this. Even if you look at his Budget speech and what he said about the agriculture sector — there are strains in Tagore’s views on the subject,” Dutta said.
He added: “We have conveyed our invitation to the PM… We haven’t received any word from the PMO, but we are prepared to host the event. The need a minimum notice of two weeks. The students are looking forward to it and this convocation can be the platform where the university can go forward to achieving the goals that Tagore had set for it.”
Asked why the convocation had not been held since 2008, Dutta said: “On several occasions. the PM was unable to attend… A number of key administrative functions have not been held in the past few months because of the controversies. The executive council meeting, for instance, hasn’t been held in weeks.”
The BJP, however, is worried about the political implications of such a visit, particularly because a section of Visva-Bharati students had protested against the arrest of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges. “There has been an increase in protests held by Left-backed student unions after the JNU row in Delhi. Our worry is that these protests would get stronger in Bengal and impact the Assembly elections. No decision has yet been taken though,” said a BJP leader.
Visva-Bharati was declared a central university and an institution of national importance by an Act of Parliament in 1951. It continues to be the only central varsity that has the Prime Minister as its chancellor, the President as Paridarsaka (Visitor) and Bengal Governor as the Pradhana (Rector).
Modi was appointed the varsity chancellor in March, 2015 for three years.