PM, chancellor and Visva trouble-shooter

Atal candour calms convocation

By SNEHAMOY CHAKRABORTY
  • Published 17.08.18
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Vajpayee with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan at the Visva Bharati University convocation in Santiniketan. File picture

Santiniketan: Atal Bihari Vajpayee had a trying time pacifying Visva-Bharati students for not being able to hand over the Saptaparni - seven leaves of the Chhatim tree symbolic of the degree - himself at the convocation on December 15, 2001.

The then Prime Minister and varsity chancellor had handed over a Saptaparni to vice-chancellor Sujit Basu as a representative of the students.

Soon, a section of the students, mostly girls, started protesting. It is a Visva tradition for the chancellor to give away the Saptaparni to select group of students and scholars at the convocation.

"He (Vajpayee) asked me what all the commotion was about. I explained to him the Saptaparni tradition. He then spoke into the microphone and said 'unfortunately, your chancellor and Prime Minister can't stand for long. So excuse me for not handing over the Saptaparni to you'. After he said this, the students cooled down. I was surprised at his power to control the masses," Basu told The Telegraph on Thursday.

The former VC recalled Vajpayee telling him about his knee problem. "Before Vajpayeeji arrived, we were told by his security personnel that he would not be able to take more than 26 steps at a time."

After this, Basu said he had met Vajpayee several times in Delhi. "He was always eager to know about Visva-Bharati. I am really pained after hearing about his death this evening," Basu added.

Visva authorities postponed Barsha Mangal - a traditional programme to welcome the monsoon - after learning about Vajpayee's demise on Thursday evening.

"We have declared a holiday at Visva-Bharati tomorrow (Friday) as a mark of respect to our former chancellor," said officiating vice-chancellor Sabuj Kali Sen.

Sen pointed out that Vajpayee's 2001 trip, his first trip as chancellor, came two days after the terror strike at Parliament.

"We thought we would have to defer the convocation. But surprisingly, Vajpayeeji attended it," Sen said.

Vajpayee came to Visva-Bharati later on April 2, 2004, a week after the theft of Rabindranath Tagore's Nobel medallion from Rabindra Bhavana museum.

"He (Vajpayee) saw the place where the medallion had been kept. He told the staff and teachers that the theft was a conspiracy and he would try his best to trace the medallion," said Samiran Nandy, a former photographer of Rabindra Bhavana.