Row over college fest invitation to Sabyasachi Dutta
Several Islands of Salt Lake still sport banners announcing former Trinamul Congress mayor-turned-BJP leader Sabyasachi Dutta as chief guest of Dhun, the fest at Bidhannagar College. The fest is done and dusted and Dutta says he did not attend as he was out of town. But the fact that an invitation was extended to him in the first place apparently raised a ruckus.
“Sabyasachi Dutta is a great friend of the college and we always invite him but this year the authorities were categorical about him not making an appearance,” says Rudradip Paul (name changed on request), who was on the organising committee of the event. “They even threatened to hold back funds if he came.”
As mayor, Dutta was a member of the college’s governing body but after resigning from the post last year, and subsequently joining the BJP, he is no longer on the committee. But Dutta remains popular with a large section of the students.
“Our relation with Sabyasachi Dutta is not political but personal. He is Dada to us,” says Minakshi Sen, an alumnus, who was general secretary of the college students’ union between 2016 and 2018. Thereafter the government has not announced elections in the college. “Our college did not have a principal for seven to eight years and we suffered because of it. It was Dada who guided us tremendously in that period and was instrumental in getting Madhumita Manna appointed as our principal.”
Students also say Dutta would help get sponsors for the fest. But with the authorities reportedly not encouraging his presence, the sponsorships dried up. “The fest was lifeless this time. I went on the first day and there was hardly a crowd,” said Arijit Ghosh (name changed on request), a third year student. “Plus, there was no attraction. In a college where Fossils and Rupankar Bagchi have performed in the past, there was no big musical draw this time.”
Students did arrange for a Bangla band and a DJ as headlining acts on the two days but neither could finally take stage. “The police made us pack up as early as 6pm on the first day and there was no time for the band to play. We had to pay them without listening to a single song,” laments Paul. “We cancelled the DJ’s performance on the second evening that day itself.”
By campus standards, 6pm is indeed too early to wrap up a college fest. Paul says the police would not give them permission for longer and the police claim the college sought permission only till 6pm. Nonetheless, they had police personnel posted during the fest.
“At college fests, students can drink and create a ruckus so we didn’t take a chance,” an officer of the Bidhannagar north police station told The Telegraph Salt Lake. “We sent about 20 police personnel over. Plus, there had been violence among students of the college before the fest. A student had been beaten up but we don’t know why as he withdrew the complaint later. Police did not get a chance to investigate the matter.”
Students cannot remember an earlier edition of the fest with so many people in uniform in attendance before. “Participants were scared. They were asking why there were so many cops around. We told them it was for their protection. ‘Who do we need protection from?’ they asked us and we had no answer,” sighs Paul.
Another mystery is about the banners across the township bearing Dutta’s name and picture. Students say they don’t know who hung them up. “On the morning of the fest, our principal told us about these posters and asked us to remove them. We neither knew who put them up nor where, so we only removed the ones we found,” said Paul.
The banners say the fest was slated for February 7, 8 and 9 but at the eleventh hour the duration was slashed to two days.
The principal, Madhumita Manna, declined comment. “The issue is too controversial. Being a government servant, I cannot speak on this,” she said.
Dutta however, has a lot to speak. “I was invited to the fest but could not go as I was out of town. I have heard the students were asked to remove the banners with my pictures by both the college authorities and the police but they refused, saying it was their business who they invited at their fest,” said Dutta, speaking to The Telegraph Salt Lake from Indore last week, where he was attending the wedding of BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya’s son.
“It is most strange that this issue became the headache of the Bidhannagar north police station inspector-in-charge. He was to see if I was attending the programme or not. All the police bandobast was for that!” he said. “The local MLA is behind all this. The IC, Bidhannagar North, told the students to invite the MLA and put an end to the fracas but they refused. The students wanted to cancel the fest but I persuaded them not to. I will be with them in my personal capacity.”
Dutta says he has done a lot for the college and also for the current college principal. “She was appointed on my recommendation. Whenever she needed anything she would come asking for it to my chamber. Now she is staying mum to save her chair.”
But the former mayor isn’t upset at the turn of the events. “I am not feeling bad,” he says. “I’m enjoying the fun.”
Inputs from Sudeshna Banerjee