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Boys at gate... with roses. Had they done so then, wouldn’t have had to call cops: VC

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SUBHANKAR CHOWDHURY Published 22.09.14, 12:00 AM
On a monitor showing shots from a CCTV camera, Chakrabarti sees the gathering at his doorstep and (right) takes in the bunch of 40 roses and the “get-well-soon” note delivered by the visitors who turned out to be students. Pictures by Amit Datta

Calcutta, Sept. 21: The interim vice-chancellor at the centre of the Jadavpur University storm was talking to The Telegraph at his home this afternoon when the conversation was interrupted.

A maid had rushed into the first-floor room to say: “Dada, kara jeno gate-y eshechhe college theke, hatey ki shob niye (some boys from your college are outside the gate; they are carrying something in their hands).”

Abhijit Chakrabarti sent her back downstairs to find out more. He himself rushed to another room in the three-storey Salt Lake house to scan the images from a CCTV camera that peers down at the entrance.

For a moment, he would surely have wondered whether the protests against Tuesday night’s alleged police brutality on the campus, which had sent an estimated 40,000 students marching through the heart of the city yesterday calling for his head, had invaded his home.

What followed was straight out of Bollywood. The students had come with a bunch of 40 roses and a “SIR GET WELL SOON!!!” message for Chakrabarti, who has been on medical leave since police rescued him from a gherao.

There was one rose for each of the 37 students arrested during the police operation and the three hospitalised.

“We won’t barricade you, we won’t shout slogans in front of your house. We will send you flowers and wish that you get well soon and your good sense prevails,” the students wrote.

Chakrabarti seemed caught between relief and surprise at the “Gandhigiri”. “They have taken care to cover the thorns (in the rose stems) with cellophane paper,” he said appreciatively as he laid the bouquet on his bed.

“I don’t mind this form of protest,” he said. “It’s not violent” like the one that had prompted him to seek police help on Tuesday night, he added.

“This is a typical JU protest — smart, ingenious and without any violence — because outsiders did not remote-control this one. If this situation had prevailed on Tuesday night, I wouldn’t have been forced to call the police,” Chakrabarti said, caressing one of his 11 dogs.

Not everyone would agree that the students’ move was all that ingenious — tinsel town had got there first. In the 2006 film Lage Raho Munna Bhai, a realtor out to demolish an old-age home is sent thousands of bouquets with “get well soon” cards so he can see the error of his ways. Students and doctors at AIIMS protested against the visiting Union health minister with roses and get-well cards in October that year.

This afternoon, the dozen-odd students who had come to Chakrabarti’s home left after handing the maid the bouquet and a brown envelope downstairs.

The envelope contained two sheets of paper, one blue and the other white. On the blue sheet was written: “SIR GET WELL SOON!!!”

The other read: “Sir… We know that you are not well. You are not well because you have ensured that thirty-seven of your students are arrested and three more are hospitalised.…

“For every student of yours the police arrested and landed in the hospital we are sending you one rose. Hopefully YOU WILL GET WELL SOON.

“Yours lovingly…

“Jadavpur Sanghoti Mancha.”

The letter had five signatures.

“They have not pelted me with brickbats. Nor have they banged on my collapsible gate — something they had done the night of the gherao, prompting me to call the police,” Chakrabarti said.

Asked why he had claimed that he feared for his life that night, he cited how, during the Naxalite movement in 1970, then JU vice-chancellor Gopal Chandra Sen was murdered on the campus. “That murder was on my mind.”

Chakrabarti’s son, a civil engineering graduate from JU who is doing a PhD with an American university, had called him from the US hours after the police action. The young man, Chakrabarti said, told him: “I know what JU is like and I know how stubborn you can be.”

Asked whether he saw how thousands had marched yesterday demanding his resignation, Chakrabarti said he did not watch much television.

He has been busy at his home with his 11 dogs.

Would he return to JU? “I can’t mention a date. I shall be back on the campus once the tension subsides,” he said.

He wants to meet the students at a “neutral venue” on Monday but the students have yet to reply.

“I had sent the students a proposal through the dean of sciences, Subrata Mukhopadhyay, for a meeting at the higher education council office on Monday. They initially told the dean they would get back to him after discussing the proposal. But they are yet to respond,” Chakrabarti said.

But he is hopeful. “They just need to come alone without any intellectuals, who always tend to instigate them. A one-to-one interaction between the students and me could settle the entire issue. But that is not happening.”

Asked about the “patient hearing” the chancellor (governor) gave the students yesterday, Chakrabarti said: “So what? On Thursday, the chancellor had given me a patient hearing too.”

He said he was not going to quit just because of the protest march. “Only the chancellor is authorised to decide my fate. I will abide by whatever he decides. He has advised me to restore normality, and as long as I’m in the chair, I will make every attempt to execute that.”

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