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CM gulps prejudice for national pride

Santiniketan, March 28: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee eschewed his earlier reservation and called in the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the sensational theft of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel medal and other memorabilia from Visva-Bharati.

“Tagore belongs to the world and is above everything (petty). I am confident that our mission will be successful if we (the state government and the Centre) can work together,” Bhattacharjee said after a meeting with Visva-Bharati University’s vice-chancellor and senior officials.

Only two days ago, he had bristled at suggestions that the CBI should be drafted in.

CBI sources in Delhi could not recall another occasion when the Bengal government has on its own sought its help. Till now, most cases probed by it have been referred by the courts.

Bhattacharjee was as good as his word. He spoke to deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who had promised “all cooperation” after learning of the theft that shook the nation.

During an hour-long telephone conversation today, the chief minister informed Advani of the state government’s decision to seek CBI help.

“He (Advani) asked me to send a formal letter to him immediately,” Bhattacharjee said.

The state government moved with alacrity. Home secretary Amit Kiran Deb sent the communique a couple of hours after Bhattacharjee’s admission of intent.

On prompting from Calcutta, R.K. Mohanty, additional director-general, state CID, who was visiting Delhi in connection with another case, met CBI officials and briefed them.

Setting aside pre-election calculations — there were suggestions that calling the CBI in would imply handing over an emotive plank to the Opposition — Bhattacharjee said Tagore was far too great to be made an issue over which the state and the Centre could engage in an unseemly fight.

But the decision does take the wind out of Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee’s sail. She has been demanding a CBI probe.

Bhattacharjee said: “Investigation by the state’s Criminal Investigation Department is on but help from the CBI is also necessary.”

Vice-chancellor Sujit Kumar Basu and other senior university officials feel the same way.

“Our only goal is finding the culprits and we are ready to take every step possible to achieve that goal,” the chief minister said. “There is enough basis for being hopeful (of recovery),” he added, but declined to elaborate for the sake of the probe.

Bhattacharjee would not say if there was suspicion of insiders having a hand in the heist. He would only reveal that he had suggested to the university ways to tighten security at the museum, where the robbery took place, as well as other university departments holding valuable documents.

The Visva-Bharati authorities today set up a seven-member committee to conduct an internal probe into the theft. The committee is expected to submit its report by March 31. Vice-chancellor Basu admitted that the internal probe had been delayed, but added that most of the staff and senior officials were busy helping the police probe.

Bhattacharjee ruled out demanding the removal of the vice-chancellor. “The question does not arise,” he said.

Another Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, who arrived in Calcutta today on way to Santiniketan, described the robbery as a loss of national pride.

“It is not a national crisis. We have lost our national pride… it is unfortunate and sad.”

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