Nearly a month after a controversy broke out over the plaques commemorating UNESCO’s award of World Heritage Site to Santiniketan, the Central government has asked the Visva-Bharati to replace them with new ones with only Rabindranath Tagore’s name inscribed on them.
Last month, three plaques commemorating UNESCO’s honour were installed at different places on the campus of Visva-Bharati with names of then vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the chancellor of the central university, inscribed on them. It led to a widescale furore since the plaques didn’t mention Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the founder of Santiniketan and Visva-Bharati.
While directing the university to remove the plaques, the Union Education Ministry also sent the format and the content which should be inscribed in the new plaques.
As per the Union Ministry, the new plaque should have the Government logo at the centre with the UNESCO Heritage status logo on its left. Below it “WORLD HERITAGE SITE SANTINIKETAN” should be inscribed followed by: “Santiniketan has been inscribed upon the World Heritage List of the convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage. Inscription on this list confirms the universal value of a cultural or natural site which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity.”
Below it a “brief description” of the place will be inscribed.
“Established in rural West Bengal in 1901 by the great Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, Santiniketan was a cradle of learning and education firmly rooted in India’s classical traditions, aspiring to a concept of universal humanity. World University was established at Santiniketan in 1921, recognising the unity of humanity or “VISVA BHARATI”…”
“Santiniketan continues to stand as a beacon of intercultural dialogue and artistic expression, nurturing the spirit of innovation and harmony. It remains a testament to Tagore’s vision of a place where the world makes a home in a single nest, resonating with the timeless pursuit of knowledge and unity in diversity.”
Following widescale criticism, the university had said the three plaques were just a “temporary structure” to demarcate the heritage site. “The ISI and UNESCO will send some text that will be erected once they are received,” Visva-Bharati spokesperson Mahua Bandyopadhyay had said earlier.
The controversy saw West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee giving a 24-hour deadline to the university to remove the plaques. The ruling Trinamool Congress leaders and workers also protested outside the university’s campus.
Hitting out at PM Modi as well as then vice-chancellor Chakrabarty, Mamata had called the plaques an “arrogant display of self-absorbed narcissism”
“Plaques at the esteemed UNESCO World Heritage site, Visva-Bharati University, feature an inexplicable omission. They highlight the names of PM Narendra Modi and V-C Bidyut Chakrabarty, while astonishingly leaving out the name of Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore. This oversight raises a critical question: Does Modiji believe he stands above the legacy of Gurudev? This is not just an affront to Tagore, but to every Indian who treasures their heritage. This is a disservice to his legacy and an injustice to our shared history!” she had said.
Governor CV Ananda Bose also criticised the plaques that did not bear Tagore’s name. He said there should be no instance of Rabindranath Tagore’s memory being obliterated or ignored. “There are certain values which can find no compromise. Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore for everyone in Bharat who sings the Jana-Gana-Mana. Gurudev is a feeling and emotion felt in the blood and heart,” the Governor had said.
Significantly, even the Opposition BJP in the state was united on the issue with the TMC. Leader of Opposition in Assembly and BJP MLA Suvendu Adhikari had said, “Without Rabindranath, there can never be Visva-Bharati. It should be corrected without insisting on this.”
A senior professor at the Visva-Bharati said that the “atmosphere at the university changed” after Bidyut Chakrabarty’s five-year term as the vice-chancellor ended on November 8.
“After Chakraborty’s term ended, the environment of Santiniketan has changed, and it is reflected in the matter of the controversial plaque with the Central government’s order,” the professor said.