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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 5, New Delhi, January 16, 2021

BJP trying to appropriate the cultural legacy of Tagore | Arun Srivastava

Friday 15 January 2021

by Arun Srivastava

Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is not merely a political party instead is a community, a caste conglomerate founded on the vestiges of feudalism and Hindutva of RSS, rather than classical concept of Hinduism. An insight into their approach and attitude towards others— political parties, social outfits, classes— would exemplify that they behaves like upper caste feudal lords. Let me cite only three examples at the moment; their attitude towards Muslims, the agitating farmers and the especially Bengali and Bengal.

To take the last one first; Visva-Bharati authorities on Friday sealed the office of a women’s socio-cultural organisation set up on the campus on Rabindranath Tagore’s instructions. The action against the Alapini Mahila Samity comes days after economist Amartya Sen’s assertion about a big gap between the Santiniketan culture and that of Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty, “empowered as he is by the central government in Delhi”. A senior university official confided: “The decision to vacate the office had been taken by the VC.” Samity members said the office at Notun Bari, a thatched mud house near the Mrinalini Ananda Pathshala, was given to the organisation in 1956 when Indira Devi Chaudhurani, daughter of Tagore’s elder brother Satyendranath, was Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor. Visva-Bharati’s estate department had on December 10 written to the president and secretary of the Samity, asking them to vacate the office by the end of the month on the ground that the university wanted it for academic activities.

Over a century ago Rabindranath had advised women of the Tagore family to set up the Alapini Mahila Samity so they could get involved with Santiniketan’s culture. Since its inception in 1916 under the stewardship of the poet’s eldest brother Dwijendranath Tagore, the organisation has been helmed by stalwarts such as Rabindranath’s daughter-in-law Pratima Devi, niece Indira Devi Chaudhurani and Amita Sen, mother of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. Samity president Aparna Das Mahapatra, 86, said the organisation represented the Tagorean tradition and the university authorities had in a way dishonoured the poet by sealing its office.

Little doubt the real motive behind this action of the VC was to silence Sen because of his questioning certain policies of the Narendra Modi government. Did not the VC realise that by resorting to this action he was hurting the cultural sensibilities of the Bengalis and lowering himself in the eyes of the Bengalis. In his zeal to serve his master Amit Shah, the VC was in fact insulting Rabindranath instead of Sen. It is really a matter of shame that ow could a Bengali indulge in this nasty game.

According to the Visva-Bharati estate office, it had recently prepared a list of “illegal occupants” that included the name of Sen as his house, Pratichi, occupies around 138 decimals while the original lease was given on 125 decimals. On his part Sen only last week had told; “The Visva-Bharati land on which our house is situated is entirely on a long-term lease, which is nowhere near its expiry. Some additional land was bought by my father as free hold and registered in land records under mouja Surul.”

Modi and BJP claim that they know all about Rabindranath is a white lie. What is shocking is even the Bengali BJP leaders are ignorant of the legacy of Kabiguru. If at all they knew much about Rabindranath how could the BJP’s Bengali leaders claim that he was born at Vishwa Bharati. Changing Tagore’s birthplace, smashing Vidyasagar’s statue, wrongly identifying Birsa Munda; this brand of fake politics cannot go on for long. Such incidents have been primarily responsible for Mamata portraying the BJP as the bohiragawto (outsider) trying to invade and ruin Bengal.

While the entire saffron brigade from Delhi to Calcutta has suddenly become conscious of the existence of Rabindranath Tagore, image of the Bengali culture and ethos, the public face of Hindu culturism Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have been striving hard to exploit the legacy of greatest Bengali synagogue and use it for their electoral success.

With election to the state assembly baring five months away the BJP has been frantically trying to project itself as a party of Bengalis which represent their aspiration and also embodies the legacies of great Bengali icon Rabindranath Thakur.

But unfortunately the compulsion of the sectarian ambition for power has landed the BJP in an egregious situation which has exposed duality of political practice and preaching. While the leaders claim to inherit the legacy of Kabiguru, their actions and speeches betray their claim. Being Bengali they ought to have known about Tagore, his legacy and Bengali cultural ethos. Their lack of ignorance simply underlines the fact that thyey have not been provided enough cultural space by the protagonists of Hindutva and Jai Sri Ram. One really feels pity at their extremely poor knowledge about the greatest son of Bengal.

With Modi and Shah invoking Rabindranath Tagore, one is reminded of the dire warning issued by Tagore in his speech, “Robbery of Soil”, delivered in 1922 at Calcutta University where in he had observed that sectarian ambition for power would endanger unity and amity among people and imperil harmonious relations among the different organs of collective life. He said “Whenever some sectarian ambition for power establishes a dominating position in life’s republic, the sense of unity, which can only be generated and maintained by a perfect rhythm of reciprocity between the parts is bound to be disturbed.” Tagore’s words and fears, articulated in 1922, have come true.

While the BJP leaders have been trying to reach out to the people by identifying themselves with the name and legacy of Tagore, these leaders have portrayed their cultural bankruptcy by catering wrong information about him. It is tragic that those who are invoking Tagore are the same people who are persecuting citizens and Tagore’s vision of an India that is the embodiment of the ideal of a land “[w]here the mind is without fear and the head is held high”.

The manner in which Modi and his government are treating the agitating farmers reminisces the repression and torture being perpetrated by the upper caste farmers in rural India on the Dalits and agricultural labourers. For the last 40 days thousands of farmers have been agitating on the Delhi border , but Modi has not bothered to evolve a mechanism to sort out the dispute and bring an end to the agitation.

The most deplorable has been at some places his police has started using force to keep them away from the protest. This is fundamentally against the recent order of the Supreme Court which conceded that they have right to agitate. The Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was right in saying; “it was for the first time since Independence such an "arrogant" government had come to power that cannot see the sufferings of ’annadatas’.The most disgraceful aspect of the government action was Modi and his minister was not treating the farmers even as humans and issuing all kind of threats. At least at three places the farmers were assaulted and thrashed by the police. Already around 56 farmers have died and not less than 7 have committed suicide.

The stance of Modi makes it abundantly clear that he is not agreeable to concede to the demand of the farmers and was determined to crush their agitation. He, his ministers and especially his bureaucrats have been treating the farmers as untouchables. The manner in which the BJP was working it points to “shrinking space” for debate and dissent in the country where people are jailed without trial through the arbitrarily imposed charge of sedition.

The BJP’s attempts to establish its Bengal connect has suffered many jolts. The most recent has been its national spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia rebuked a co-panellist during a TV debate, telling him Rabindranath’s surname was Tagore and not Thakur. It is really sad that some Bengali BJP leaders are also not aware of Rabindranath’s correct name and his birth place. The list of BJP leaders’ gaffes is quite long. BJP’s desperation to prove its Bengali credentials ahead of next summer’s election is quite pathetic.

This has helped the TMC to beat the BJP with the "bahiragawto" (outsider) stick. Trinamul spokesperson and minister Bratya Basu reiterated saying the Tagore-Thakur confusion was proof of the BJP’s disconnect from Bengali culture. "This is why we call them outsiders. They don’t even understand Bengal,"

Ever since this design of claiming Tagore’s legacy featured, the BJP has become quite aggressive to stake its right on Vishwa Bharati University. In its game the BJP has been ruthlessly using the power of the vice chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty. Ironically the most prominent target of saffron attack has become the noble laureate and economist Amartya Sen.

Visva-Bharati authorities on Friday sealed the office of a women’s socio-cultural organisation set up on the campus on Rabindranath Tagore’s instructions. The action against the Alapini Mahila Samity comes days after economist Amartya Sen’s assertion about a big gap between the Santiniketan culture and that of Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty, “empowered as he is by the central government in Delhi”. A senior university official confided: “The decision to vacate the office had been taken by the VC.” Samity members said the office at Notun Bari, a thatched mud house near the Mrinalini Ananda Pathshala, was given to the organisation in 1956 when Indira Devi Chaudhurani, daughter of Tagore’s elder brother Satyendranath, was Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor. Visva-Bharati’s estate department had on December 10 written to the president and secretary of the Samity, asking them to vacate the office by the end of the month on the ground that the university wanted it for academic activities.

Over a century ago Rabindranath had advised women of the Tagore family to set up the Alapini Mahila Samity so they could get involved with Santiniketan’s culture. Samity president Aparna Das Mahapatra, 86, said the organisation represented the Tagorean tradition and the university authorities had in a way dishonoured the poet by sealing its office.

Little doubt the real motive behind this action of the VC was to silence Sen because of his questioning certain policies of the Narendra Modi government. Visva-Bharat has also planned to evict Sen from the campus. It has prepared a list of “illegal occupants” that included the name of Sen as his house, Pratichi, occupies around 138 decimals while the original lease was given on 125 decimals. On his part Sen only last week had told; “The Visva-Bharati land on which our house is situated is entirely on a long-term lease, which is nowhere near its expiry. Some additional land was bought by my father as free hold and registered in land records under mouja Surul.”

Mamata Banerjee echoed Sen by saying the authorities of the central university were trying to end some of the old traditions of Santiniketan by stopping festivals like the Basanta Utsav and Pous Mela. She also expressed surprise at the “baseless allegations” by “nouveau invaders” and urging him to count her as a “sister”. She also said; “Amartya Sen is being attacked for his views against the Union government. This is completely unacceptable. Just like I am being attacked for my political views”. The Nobel laureate had been openly critical of economic measures like the demonetisation and the growing intolerance in the country under Modi’s rule.

It was expected that Amit Shah would keep in abeyance his popular drama show the CAA and NCR. But this does not appear to be happening. Recently during his visit to Bengal he assured the Matua caste people that he would implement it. It is a known fact that Matuas have been accorded with the Indian citizenship, even then the BJP and Amit Shah has been indulging in this game. A BJP MP from Bengal belonging to the Matua community has been raising this issue.

Amit Shah has been reiterating it for simply terrorising the Muslims. His systematic harping on this issue, has provoked Mamata Banerjee to describe the BJP “a cheatingbaaj party (a party of cheats)” over Amit Shah’s apparent shifting of the goalpost on the citizenship matrix and spoke against any of its three components getting implemented in Bengal. With Matuas getting restless over the delay in the CAA’s implementation, BJP national general-secretary and Bengal minder Kailash Vijayvargiya had earlier promised it would be implemented from January.

BJP’s Bongaon MP Santanu Thakur had urged. “It is important that the Act is implemented before state elections. Any delay in the process will have its… bad effect”. In fact Mamata, mocking Shah, had said: “ does he know what sona (gold) is, what rupo (silver) is, what tama (copper) is? I hope he knows the meaning of armoury, arms, riots, communal, secular?”

Even after committing gaffes, the BJP leaders continue to strive to grab the name and legacy of Rabindranath Thakur. A coule of days back Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s vision is the essence of ’Atmanirbhar Bharat’ mission of his government for the empowerment of India and the world as he took forward his outreach to premier educational institutions of Bengal.

Addressing a function to mark the centenary celebrations of Visva-Bharati, the country’s oldest Central University, he extolled the pivotal role it played in India’s freedom movement and in furthering the cause of universal brotherhood. Visva-Bharati was declared a Central University and an Institution of National Importance by an Act of Parliament in 1951.

He even claimed that the institution Tagore had founded would notonly strengthened the spirit of nationalism but also promoted inclusiveness that strengthened "vishva bandhutva" (universital brotherhood).

The prime minister said Visva-Bharati was the embodiment of the vision and the hard work of the Nobel laureate and a "venerable source of constant energy to the country." He said, today, India was spreading Visva-Bharati’s message to the world.

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