New Delhi: In a series of tweets on Wednesday evening, Swapan Dasgupta, the pro-BJP journalist who is a nominated MP in the Rajya Sabha, said he had been locked into a room along with around 70 people at Visva-Bharti University in West Bengal after a “howling mob” that he alleged was “itching for confrontation” gheraoed the venue of a talk he delivered on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
Among those locked in with him was the university’s vice-chancellor, Bidyut Chakraborty.
Though it is located in Shantiniketan, Birbhum in West Bengal, Visva-Bharati is a central university and the security of the campus has been under the direct control of the Central Industrial Security Force – which reports to Union home minister Amit Shah – since November 2019.
It was not clear from Dagupta’s tweet whether the protesters had been ones to lock the room from the outside or if it was a precautionary measure taken by university staff or the CISF .
There are nearly 70 people locked inside a room in Vishwa Bharati, Santiniketan, for the crime of attending an official, university-convened lecture by me on CAA. This includes the VC. There is a howling mob outside itching for confrontation. pic.twitter.com/3eLBHPdIHT
— Swapan Dasgupta (@swapan55) January 8, 2020
The standoff ended without any violence, according to Dasgupta. At 10:42 pm, he tweeted:
Drama ends in Vishwa Bharati without the confrontation that some protesters desperately wanted
— Swapan Dasgupta (@swapan55) January 8, 2020
Shift in venue
The Rajya Sabha MP was scheduled to address a talk titled ‘The CAA-2019: Understanding and Interpretation’, on Wednesday afternoon a part of a Visva-Bharati lecture series at the university’s Lipika Auditorium.
The programme was scheduled for 3.30 pm and was to be presided over by the VC.
According to one Visva-Bharati faculty member who did not want to be named, the lecture had been open to all, including those from outside the university. “However, students and teachers launched a major agitation from the morning in support of the trade unions’ bandh today and against Swapan Dasgupta’s lecture. They accused the VC of using the university auditorium for political propaganda,” the teacher told The Wire.
“Given the scale of the agitation, the VC then changed the venue of the lecture to the Department of Social Work in Sriniketan, which is around 5 km away from Shantiniketan,” the teacher added.
Around 40-50 students who got to know about the changed venue reached there and shouted slogans against the CAA and the National Register of Citizens.
PTI has identified the protesters as members of the Communist Party of India (Marxits)-backed Students Federation of India.
The varsity’s SFI unit leader Somnath Sau was quoted by PTI as having said that the students will not allow anyone who “promotes hatred among communities” to spread propaganda on the soil of Visva-Bharati, which stands for the ideals of Rabindranath Tagore, its founder.
“We will continue our protests against the BJP and the forces of the Hindutva,” he reportedly added.
The Wire has not been able to clarify if the demonstrators comprised only SFI members.
Trend of intolerance
The attempt to stop Dasgupta’s lecture is part of a growing trend across India where students and activists affiliated to political parties – and also university administrators – have prevented, or tried to prevent speakers from addressing audiences on campus.
Last year, HK Arts College in Ahmedabad disinvited the Congress-backed independent MLA Jignesh Mewani and canceled a talk he was scheduled to deliver. Earlier this week, a lecture in Chennai on the portrayal of women in the Mahabharata, “Reluctant Brides, Deviant Wives, Cunning Witches: Women in Tamil Mahabharatas” by former JNU professor Vijaya Ramaswami was cancelled after it “invited the wrath of some social media groups.” In 2016, the ABVP forced the VC to cancel a lecture by The Wire‘s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan and later gheraoed him in the VC’s office after he entered campus to protest the cancellation.
At Visva-Bharati, from ‘sit-in’ to ‘fierce’ agitation
Though the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M) are political rivals in the state, a TMC source told The Wire that what Visva-Bharati witnessed on Wednesday night was not a “mob” but a “sit-in demonstration” against the CAA. The source also said the students were not just from the Let.
“Students initiated a sit-in demonstration,” the source said, adding that BJP and its student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s activists then mobilised themselves under the leadership of one Dudhkumar Mondal.
The faculty member whom The Wire spoke to said ABVP activists had “reached at the spot and were seen wielding sticks and rods.”
“As panic spread, TMC activists also reached there and violently dispersed the ABVP activists. Then, the protesting students started agitating more fiercely, not allowing Swapan Dasgupta to leave,” the faculty member added.
The lockdown was over by 10:30 pm, after which students returned to their accommodations, said the teacher.
Visva-Bharati was founded in 1921 by Rabindranath Tagore, who remains one of the most quoted writers on the now contentious topics of nationalism and patriotism.