ONE TO ONE TALK WITH VICE CHANCELLOR PROF SUSHANTA DATTAGUPTA
ONE TO ONE TALK WITH VICE CHANCELLOR PROF SUSHANTA DATTAGUPTA
The Prologue: At this present juncture, this website ‘Muktodhara’ felt a direct talk with Prof Sushanta Dattagupta, to be highly relevant to get an idea about the official position regarding several tricky grounds on which Visva Bharati is positioned right now. We are naturally aware about the top administration of Visva Bharati being in severe negative publicity in press and elsewhere often instigated by members of Visva Bharati community from within, where apparently the Vice Chancellorship has come under considerable strain. However, as ex-students, let us clarify without any sort of ambiguity that, our primary concern and interest remains the NAAC accreditation which positions Visva Bharati at Grade B. We feel very strongly about this, and this adverse gradation has managed to considerably dent our own esteem too, as ex-students of this unique learning institute. Secondly, which is equally important we wanted to open a democratic space for dialogue within all stake holders of Visva Bharati, past and present, which appears to be fairly stifled right at this juncture. Strictly speaking, opening up of a democratic space for Visva Bharati, where debates can take place with reasonable sanity, is actually the job of Visva Bharati University itself. We are sorry to tread into territories not exactly ours, but as ex-students of Visva Bharati we do not think we are too unreasonable either to be interested in Visva Bharati affairs. After all, Visva Bharati is a public property running with tax payers money, and hence should be open to public scrutiny.
The general perception at Santiniketan about the vice chancellorship of Prof Sushanta Dattagupta remains divided, whatever may be the interpretation of popular press. On the one hand, the vociferous anti VC lobby heaps a huge amount of allegation of misuse of power and corruption on him, on the other hand sizeable number of students and faculty members feel that while the VC is dynamic, he remains perpetually plagued by huge amount of traditional cross-currents flowing within Visva Bharati. We shall deal with these issues in due course. On this background, on behalf of this website, I requested to the VC’s office for a time to meet Prof Dattagupta, and he gracefully consented. The point we would definitely like to put on record here, that just by giving this consent, being well aware that the crux of the conversation would be published in ‘Muktodhara’, Prof Susanta Dattagupta makes himself available officially in a public domain. As we have re-iterated time and again, a democratic ambiance in Visva Bharati should be naturally welcome and hope that the scope of dialogues should remain open at least within Visva Bharati and hopefully with it’s ex-students as well. My sincere thanks to Prof Sushanta Dattagupta. I would also categorically state that I had no intention of ‘fact finding’, and that preferring more practical alignment with society in general, I know pretty well that management or administration is not actually a black and white statement, and Visva Bharati in all these decades was never a black and white statement either. With this background I met Vice Chancellor of Visva Bharati, Prof Sushanta Duttagupta with an appointment fixed on 22 August 2015, from 5:30 to 6:00 PM, and started our friendly talk with two cups of South Korean black coffee prepared by him.
Prof Duttagupta’s vision on Visva Bharati :-
According to Prof Duttagupta, Visva Bharati remains unique for Sangit Bhavana, Kala Bhavana and the Sriniketan Units and the school sections (about the school sections we shall elaborate later in details). Without these units Visva Bharati could not stand anywhere near even Jadavpur University- please note this remark which was categorically mentioned by Prof Duttagupta. Accordingly, he tried to put these units under special care by appointing special administrators, designated provosts, and deputed several deputy registrars to such respective units to speed up things. Though he appreciated the good work by some deputy registrars, he also lamented that some of them were extremely reluctant to move out of Central Office, and considered such assignments as demotions! As a result, Sriniketan has a full fledged administrative unit now, under provost Dr Sabujkoli Sen, and Vice Chancellor attends the unit on regular basis once or twice a week. Sangit Bhavana got boosted by a new Rabindra Sangit Gabeshana Kendra, the Esraj Center and the Rabindra Nritya Unit, accompanying artists were given a better status, the Drama section were rejuvenated by new recruits. Kala Bhavana managed some additional infrastructure, with a new unit on multi-media on the anvil. The Sriniketan units, the Agriculture being always a very vibrant with Social Work courses being fairly career attractive these days, always managed to maintain it’s own steady un-interrupted flow in Visva Bharati. I am not too sure, whether Prof Sushanta Duttagupta managed to infuse some fresh energy in Silpa Sadana unit, which went into a huge overhaul by starting the B-Design course during the tenure of the earlier VC Prof Rajat Kanta Ray.
All these sounds very good. But personally, his interpretation of Visva Bharati managed to dampen my spirit at the very initial stages of the discussion. Along with many of the present generation of students and fair number of faculty members, my perceptions here differs significantly with Prof Duttagupta’s. As he specifically mentioned ‘Jadavpur University’, we feel, or lets say some of us feel, it is much better to have a university like Jadavpur blended with the philosophy and aesthetic orientation of Rabindranath Tagore, with a workable future trajectory; than having a Tagore specific university with an undefined future trajectory, leaving open a wide scope for unfruitful and time wasting debates on ‘Tagorean ideals of education’. I could immediately sense that the administration of Visva Bharati still prefers to hover more on the intellectual plane, rather be firm footed on practical reality. But, this trend has a long history in Visva Bharati. I was greatly piqued by earlier VC Prof Rajat Kanta Ray, when being over excited at an small formal gathering at Amra Kunja probably addressing a group of senior exstudents, proclaimed dramatically looking heavenwards ‘Dekho Rabika! Tomar Santiniketan Bari, Jekhane Tumi Choto Bela Katiyechile, Jekhane Rathidada-o Chotobelay Koto Khela Korechen, Amra Setake Notun Kore Sajiye Tulechi!’ (In English: See, uncle Rabindranath, your ‘Santiniketan Bari’, where you had spent your childhood, where brother Rathindranath spent his playing days as a kid, how we have renovated your home!” It was amazing, Prof Rajat Kanta Ray were actually talking or invoking the ghosts of Rabindrananth and his son Rathindranath! Later he once tried to invoke the ghost of Maharshi Devendranath Tagore right from Chatimtala! So, I reckon Vice Chancellors of Visva Bharati nurtures a tendency to carry the ghost of Rabindranath Tagore on their shoulders. I am really apologetic here, as my language of expression might appear to be very crass, but I can not find a more appropriate phrase to describe the situation. It is high time now, Rabindranath Tagore is unshackled from Visva Bharati. I think it to be highly improper to keep Rabindranath shackled as a ghost on administration, or to pass him as strictures, or to remain endlessly absorbed in searching for him in the labyrinth of Visva Bharati. Rabindranath invariably remains the greatest free spirit to cherish and Visva Bharati should embrace him freely with love, affection and appropriate intellect, just as the rest of the world does!
So, there is a difference of opinion here, which should be a democratic subject for Visva Bharati to contemplate urgently.
The NAAC accreditation placing Visva Bharati at Grade B :-
According to Prof Sushanta Dattagupta the Grade B is not exactly a devastating blow for Visva Bharati, as the university faced NAAC for the first time which usually creates a lot of confusion. He felt, such mishaps are not really unexpected at the first exposure. He has a firm belief that the next time the university faces NAAC at 2017/18, Visva Bharati will surely notch a higher grade. I was frankly impressed by his positive attitude. As far as impact on funding is concerned, he assured that in his latest parley with the chief of UGC for allocations for the next plan period, UGC assured full support for Visva Bharati. The NAAC gradation did not even come under discussion. At the same time he was cryptic about NAAC committee forced to listen to a barrage of allegations on administration, from even within Visva Bharati, and specially from the guardians forum and few ex students. As far as my idea goes, these were quite uncalled for, as NAAC committee were not in Visva Bharati to assess the credibility of the administration, but were more interested to listen to the future projection plans from different quarters of Visva Bharati society. So, without any futuristic vision, criticizing the present administration to NAAC, hardly served any purpose! It was a foolish thing to do,as it tarnished the whole image of Visva Bharati, of its 40 departments, the faculty members, the administrative staff. This did enough harm to Visva Bharati, which will take about at least half a decade to wipe off with a very concerted effort, even much after Prof Dattagupta’s Vice Chancellorship in Visva Bharati. That the Visva Bharati community is so short sighted, speaks correctly about the prevalent psyche of Visva Bharati. In consonance with the positive input from Vice Chancellor, let us echo the hope that in 2017/18 Visva Bharati will be accredited Grade A.
I specifically asked Prof Sushanta Dattagupta for his opinion on how long the UGC will fund Visva Bharati on Tagore specific lines, that he initiated in Sangit, Kala and Sriniketan; he replied ‘only as long as the faculty members of such departments can project Rabindranath Tagore appropriately’. That opens another area of doubt for Visva Bharati. Will the faculty members of Kala Bhavana (though I think Kala Bhavana is not exactly Tagore specific), Sangeet Bhavana and Palli Samgathna Bibhaga be able to strongly project Rabindranath to attract funds from Central Governments in future? Even then, will UGC offer a careful ear to their pleas? This remains a very gray area, because projecting Tagore aligned with Visva Bharati, generating enough career opportunity, and consequently finding faculty members good enough to generate student’s interest and ultimately generating adequate fund is not at all an easy job, in fact it is a very difficult job even for Tagore wizards. And then a Tagore wizard is a very rare phenomenon in present times. My inference is, Visva Bharati is up against a wall in this issue. It will be great if VBU can scale the wall, it can be a huge wonder, but chances remain remote. The practical assessment would put such effort on ‘unpredictable’ scale. So, I am not at all sure about the feasibility of the approach.
The whole thing places, UGC funding of Visva Bharati at an unpredictable mode, apart from funding the regular expenditures. This also puts the development agendas of Visva Bharati into an unsure footing- I would say hazy, as what Visva Bharati wants to achieve by treading on such lines is not made explicitly clear to anybody either. That’s why, referring to Prof Sushanta Dattgupta’s observation, I would re-iterate that in present day context with the future not too clear for us, it is hugely beneficial for all to have a ‘Jadavpur’-like-university along with an intrinsic Rabindranath Tagore; than a Tagore specific Visva Bharati with an unpredictable future projection! At least one should have a clear idea about what one is working on, rather than not knowing what is really offered on the plate! Like every one else, I also do not know what exactly Visva Bharati offers to it’s student, apart from the fact that the students have to pass a mandatory two semester course on Tagore Studies and ironically quite a few secure a ‘back’ there! On a different level, it was genuinely surprising to find the top 10% of the students of a reputed department in Visva Bharati opting for both the TET (primary teacher eligibility test) and NET(entry test for PhD). If the best students of Visva Bharati are not too sure about what to expect from acquiring a graduate/post graduate degree, we really do not know how education is oriented in Visva Bharati as well. Does Visva Bharati want to produce scholars or primary school teachers? It is indeed a real issue.
The discussion, this far, was not going the way I would have really like to. On the main two basic issues I found nothing to feel elated about, ofcourse according to my personal perspectives. I admit, that perspectives can vary from person to person and acknowledge that my observations do stand a chance to be error prone. Certainly a senior and capable person like Prof Sushanta Dattgupta must be having his own more legitimate ideas about Visva Bharati as a Vice Chancellor. But, I still feel there remains much scope for debate on the basic ideological premises of functioning in Visva Bharati at this present juncture of time.
The Misuse of Power and Corruption Issues against Prof Dattgupta:
I never intended to raise these issues to Prof Dattagupta, because even before I met him, I knew perfectly well that the ‘corruption and misuse of power’ issues against him are really minuscule compared to the corruption and misuse of power that has gone on in Visva Bharati for decades now in regular flow. I am much too familiar with such histories of Visva Bharati to know that those charges against him, whether right or wrong, has been blown out of proportion by the sustained effort of anti VC lobby within Visva Bharati. Well, that is a very strict internal issue within Visva Bharati, a complicated ground to tread on, and hence I refrained from referring to this particular issue.
To my surprise and amusement, the frank and forthright person Prof Sushanta Dattgupta is, he shot at me, “Well, Shubhashis, you can probe me on corruption issues as well, you need not hesitate”. To this, with a smile emerging on my lips, I remained categorical in my reply ‘Sir, I am too familiar with the chronic malpractices VBU has gone through all these years, and hence do not put much importance to the charges levelled against you, which appears to be minuscule to us.” He reciprocated by a cryptic smile and then lamented that the Fact Finding Committee did not even care to listen to him. Only one of the three members went for a casual chat with him for sometime, without going into any sort of meaningful discussion about the charges levelled against him. Well, I certainly do not know the exact modality of functioning of Fact Finding committees, but it appeared distinctly strange to me when the main accused do not get a chance to have a decent talk. Prof Dattagupta also mentioned that he sought an appointment with HRD Minister Mrs Smriti Irani on issues related to Visva Bharati, which was declined. He acknowledged, in a matter of fact manner that, the HRD Ministry of the BJP led Government does not like him, and he may not be in office for long. However he made it categorical that he would not resign and fight to the last. Appreciating his spirit, I offered my customary good wishes to him.
Side stepping this uncomfortable exchanges with him, but a bit inquisitive about a few appointment issues, I asked him about the modality of appointments made in Visva Bharati. He sensed the question right, and pointed out to me that, being an expert in Science, he personally monitored the recruitments in Science and related departments, which remains taint free in Visva Bharati in his tenure. In matters where he is not an expert, chiefly Fine Arts and Music where allegations surfaced, the appointments have been processed through the customary selection committee with specified number of external members as per norms. He was plainly suggesting that, not being an expert, he was dependant on the selection committee and the related processes in many such appointments not involving the Science and the related subjects. A plausible explanation indeed, as none expects the Vice Chancellor to be directly involved in all the appointments in an university. It does not happen anywhere else, and it is not possible physically either for a VC to monitor each and every appointment. But however VCs, along with many important members of an University can and do influence the appointments. This is nothing new, happens in many universities, and neither I expected Visva Bharati to be any different.
Yet, some appointment issues were too glaring to ignore. The first one regards Dr Anupam Hazra, MP. Dr Anupam Hazra got elected to parliament, while being on probation period in Visva Bharati. I am not sure about the exact position now, Visva Bharati made a huge fuss, not willing to accommodate him on grounds of not completing the probation period. I feel the whole episode was really uncalled for. Wining an parliamentary election, certainly can not be a crime, and after he has been selected and taught for few months, the possibility of accommodating Dr Anupam Hazra should have been explored. But instead attempts to shut the door on DR Hazra was definitely made, and certainly it could not have been without the consent of Vice Chancellor Prof Sushanta Dattagupta. Whatever may be the political equations, I personally feel it was a poor gesture shown to Dr Anupam Hazra by Visva Bharati. I also categorically state that I am not a member of Trinamul Congress Party, only know Dr Anupam Hazra to the level of saying ‘hello’ and do not have any financial interests either for me or my family from Trinamul Congress party. In my honest opinion, it was a terribly poor gesture extended to Dr Anupam Hazra, for being an MP of Bolpur Constituency.
Though I am certainly not conversant on technicalities applied by selection committees, but in public perception it appeared very strange that a very well versed and accomplished young Rabindrasangeet singer, having a distinct style, Mr Manoj Murali Nayar did not find favour with Sangit Bhavana. I would like to record this particular case as very unfortunate, no not exactly for Mr Manoj Murali Nayar, because I strongly believe he certainly has many exciting avenues to chart for himself. It is unfortunate for Visva Bharati and Sangit Bhavana that Manoj could not be embraced in Santiniketan with due acknowledgement.
But then, appointments in Visva Bharati, generally speaking, remains perennially controversial by default for last 40 years or so. Someone or other always felt rejected on grounds other than merit. It is actually a long long story, quite exasperating.
My personal perception on Prof Dattagupta as Vice Chancellor of Visva Bharati:
Though on many policy issues there are huge difference of opinions with him, Prof Dattagupta however remains a pretty dynamic person. It is great to notice the brisk pace of activity he generated in Visva Bharati, which remained otherwise in a chronic drooling mood, romantically absorbed into its own world. Many of us wondered at the sudden surge of activities in almost all areas, and it was good to find Visva Bharati fleet footed. I am particularly appreciative of (1) his very keen effort to keep the campus area clean and good looking. (2) To appoint faculty from all corners of India, from Arunachal, to Rajasthan, to Kerala. Otherwise we were so familiar to find mostly our ex-students and few others from West Bengal managing to get into faculty positions. Those were welcome and deserving departures from earlier practices. Some of his human gestures are really worth a mention, when he kind of streamlined the pay for temporary staffs to around Rs8000-10000/- from a paltry Rs 2000/3000 or even Rs500/. The conscious effort to engage the tribal people, through self help groups, to keep the campus area clean, there by providing a regular source of income for the tribal community was a very welcome gesture from him. My personal thanks to him for taking the trouble to bother about the welfare of the tribal Santals in his own innovative way. I know arranging such funds for keeping the campus area clean on a regular basis is not a very easy job.
On the flip side, the brisk pace he wished to generate, bulldozing through the established practices (not all practices are good though!) in Santiniketan, unruffled a few feathers I reckon. Rapid pace has its own pitfalls in the sense that it is more accident prone. Patha Bhavana and Siksha Satra was one such accident for him, an episode to be dealt at the concluding stages of this article. A brisk pace also perhaps made decision making process dependant on others, and knowing the tendencies I will not be surprised if few manipulative ones in his team managed to influence the decision making process for their personal gain, which either he could not spot or consciously overlooked to keep the momentum going. The setting up of a brisk pace also had a natural tendency to make the lengthy democratic process of decision making in Government organisations redundant, a situation having both it’s distinctive pros and equally alarming cons. Soon, Visva Bharati kind of got divided into a pro and anti VC camp. Well, all these are probably natural effects of the professional hazard of administration trying to speed up things in an institution with a characteristic laid back attitude. In short the pace was something to rejoice, and the bulldozing effect a bit worrisome.
The crux of the matter: Patha Bhavana & Siksha Satra:
Prof Sushanta Dattagupta initiated a fateful move to bar automatic entry into graduation for school children of Visva Bharati, and this proved to be a nemesis for the administration. This automatic entry route into graduation, naturally illogical but not exactly illegal, is a life line of Visva Bharati either by default of by a special ‘quota’ system for many many years now. He decided to break the system. According to my reading, more than what is proper or improper, management or administration needs to go for a detailed and careful study about the feasibility of a move. Indulging in an infeasible move is to be considered a serious failure of administration.
Patha Bhavana and Siksha Satra, with a combined strength of 200, has a 50% reservation in Vidya, Bhasa and Siksha Bhavana; where as the total intake of new students in 1rst year graduation is around 1600. Grossly speaking 50% reservation, translating into 800 seats among the 1600 new intakes, for two schools with a combined strength of 200, is a highly skewed arrangement. Purely statistically 200 out of 1600 makes a percentage of 12.5% and the reservation should have been around that mark. A 50% reservation, even with a cut of mark, seems to be highly inflated. A simple thumb rule of reservation of 5 students in all 40 departments, i.e 5×40=200, appears to be a simplistic statistical model. But in Visva Bharati the prevalent system is unreasonably complicated with 50% reservation with cut off marks in Vidya, Siksha and Bhasa Bhavana only, not in Kala, Sangit and Agriculture. So, the current ‘quota’ process appears to be devoid of any transparent logic.
Without making impacting efforts to revamp the school education system at Visva Bharati, or without making an conscious effort to align the schools with the higher education model set by UGC (do not really know what this means in reality!), a simple scrapping of the internal ‘quota’ seems to me a particularly harsh solution. Moreover, such a radical change in Visva Bharati should have been taken up after initiating a proper dialogue within and outside Visva Bharati community. The different voices on this issue, should have been carefully heard and analyzed to initiate any change in this particular system. Unfortunately, the penchant for speed probably made Prof Dattagupta oblivious to the extent of resistance from within Visva Bharati, both by democratic and undemocratic means. Ultimately this move proved to be a catastrophe for the administration of Visva Bharati. In his own admission, Prof Dattagupta’s detractors in Visva Bharati managed to unite after the administrative failure to enforce the ‘quota’ scrap for school children of Visva Bharati, with many switching alignment from pro-VC to anti-VC lobby. In effect feasibility study of the move to scrap the ‘quota’ was not conducted with due care, if Prof Dattagupta was advised on this issue- he was definitely ill advised, suddenly throwing out the administrative mechanism completely out of gear. We were thoroughly surprised at the bizarre turn of events, while Visva Bharati from a smoothly running fleet footed unit suddenly transformed into a very complicated and at times fairly ugly chaotic place.
The crux of the matter thus is that a sizeable section in Visva Bharati and its nearby areas, students and faculty members did not like such a confrontation with the school education system of Visva Bharati. Some had their personal reasons like keeping the admission for their children automatic in graduation level at Visva Bharati, but quite a few had their apprehensions for many other reasons too- not exactly personal. The Ex-student community of Visva Bharati, with almost nil personal interest in the issue, were perfectly divided in their opinion too. Some were plain shocked and thought the move to be outrageous, while others thought it was a right move as they were in principle against any kind of ‘quota’ system in educational institutes. In short the issue still remains inconclusive and hence a complicated one. To find an simplistic solution to such a complicated issue, where rather strong opinions vary almost equally between two extremes, was a disastrous move of the administration of Visva Bharati. Being the principal mover, it was definitely an error of judgement by Prof Dattagupta.
This is the crux of the matter which has put Prof Dattagupta in an uncomfortable footing right at this moment. But, to highlight Prof Dattagupta as a administrator with foul deeds, and to castigate him with the help of political string pulling by several players in Visva Bharati and elsewhere, is really unfortunate. I would categorically record that no one is exactly a saint in Visva Bharati; in fact the world today is devoid of saints except in fairy tale story books. We would rather prefer to assess the fact in the correct perspective according to our readings.
Interest of this website ‘Muktodhara’ in affairs of Visva Bharati?
Now, the usual thing in Visva Bharati is no one works here without some kind of an interest, well as per popular perception. An personal agenda free interest in Visva Bharati affairs is almost unheard of, and is usually treated with disbelief and shock. It is almost a sin in Visva Bharati to not to have an ulterior motif for an action. At the very first exchange people within Visva Bharati try to gauge the intentions behind the facade. So I reckon I need to clarify our interest in Visva Bharati. First of all, writing on critical issues on a magazine, real or virtual, generally has a chance of attracting more readers. So, this makes a valid case for Muktodahara to be interested in Visva Bharati, chiefly as this magazine caters to the ex-student community of Visva Bharati. Secondly, we would like to infer a situation according to our own perceptions, and would not necessarily adhere to interpretations meted out by the internal community of Visva Bharati. Let me be categorical about this too. Thirdly, because we feel such events should be recorded somewhere, even with diverse perspectives, to track the trajectory of Visva Bharati, as it is an institution of national importance. I think these are reasons valid enough for us, primarily the ex-students of Visva Bharati and generally the citizens of the world to remain interested in affairs of Visva Bharati.
From, the editorial board, we encourage and would highly appreciate, if anyone wants to write on this issue, from other perspectives, in this web magazine with full liberty (i.e. no editing from our part). An exchange of dialogue of different views should help us to form clearer perceptions, which is also the desired norm in any democratic society, and more so in an educational institute.
Democracy, however inefficient it may be, has always proved to be the best solution available to us. The recent events at Jadavpur or Presidency University, highlight to us in no uncertain terms, that the system of democracy, needs to be analysed, recorded and inferred very carefully by all sections, administrators/students/faculty members/guardians to harness the best possible results. This is of paramount importance for an educational institute, as in these breeding grounds the future intellect is processed. Take care.
With due apology,
And with a very special appreciation for Prof Sushanta Dattagupta for a very frank deliberation,
With a hope that Visva Bharati will make all of us very proud,
Wishing a better NAAC accreditation next time,