- PM addressed Visva-Bharati University in Bengal on its centenary today
- Rabindranath Tagore's vision was the essence of "Aatmanirbhar Bharat": PM
- Trinamool has complained that Mamta Banerjee was not invited to the event
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the Visva-Bharati University in Bengal on its centenary today, said its iconic founder Rabindranath Tagore's vision was the essence of "Aatmanirbhar Bharat" or self-reliant India. He also said the university evolved from centuries of the Indian ethos and embodied Indian nationalist sentiment during Independence with the guidance of Rabindranath Tagore.
"Guided by Gurudev (Rabindranath Tagore) Visva-Bharati presented a strong image of Indian nationalist sentiment during Independence. Gurudev wanted entire humanity to benefit from India's spiritual awakening," he said, going to add later in his speech, "Atmanirbhar Bharat vision is also a derivative of this sentiment."
"Be it the Visva-Bharati University, Banaras Hindu University, Aligarh Muslim University, Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia University, Andhra University, Anna Malai University, and several others are premier institutions and came up around the same time, in the same era, and gave momentum to India's thirst for knowledge. Today, as more and more people are getting a good education, we now have to work to build a strong and wise nation - one that is self-reliant. We must take inspration from all those who have contributed to making India great over the centuries and millennia. We must also keep in mind the India that our freedom fighters envisioned when they fought of our independence. That is why we are now at the stage to create an Aatmanirbhar Bharat."
The tribute to one of Bengal's most famous sons is significant at a time an acrimonious campaign for next year's election has seen the ruling Trinamool Congress and its main challenger, PM Modi's BJP, fighting over the state's legacy and biggest icons.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress accused the centre of "insulting" her by not inviting her to the event. The BJP, however, produced the university's letter inviting the Chief Minister and accused her of insulting Tagore's institution by not attending the function.
Mamata Banerjee's minister Bratya Bose said he was not aware of any letter in the last 15 days. "How do you know invite came last night? There was no invitation in the last 15 days. Maybe it came last night. But I don't know. There is decorum. If you invite someone, you can't do it at the last minute. Is that the protocol? She is the chief minister of Bengal. You can't insult her in this way," he said.
A debate has also cropped up over the Prime Minister's attempt to highlight Tagore's connect to the prime minister's home state Gujarat, perhaps as a retort to Mamata Banerjee, who has repeatedly said she will not allow Bengal to be turned into Gujarat. Ms Banerjee was responding to BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh's call to turn Bengal into Gujarat "so Bengal's people would not have to go to other states for work and industry would come to Bengal and jobs too."
"When I speak about Gurudev, I cannot help but indulge in speaking a little about his visits to Gujarat. He used to visit his elder brother who was posted there. He even wrote two of his famous poems whilst in Gujarat. Why I say all this, it is because it shows how India has always been about diverse cultures coming together and living in harmony. We are a nation of varied cultures, languages, clothing, food, and much more, yet a lot binds us together and it is this unity in diversity that is our biggest strength. It is all about 'Ek Bharat, Shresth Bharat'," said the Prime Minister. He also referred to Tagore's sister-in-law, saying she introduced modern sari-draping to India.
The Trinamool Congress reacted sharply to the PM's comments and also called him out on "pronunciation and factual errors".
Bratya Bose said the attempt to link Tagore and Gujarat was inexplicable.
"Tagore's brother who was in Gujarat was not the oldest brother. His wife's name was Gyanadanandini, not Gyanandini which is what the PM said. The story about Gyanadanandini and how she adopted the current way of wearing the saree pallu over the left shoulder is a half truth. She did pick up the trend from Gujarati women but also from Parsee women (who she met there) but the Prime Minister will never mention the word Parsi, will he," Mr Bose said.
He also critiqued PM Modi's comments on nationalism. "The PM spoke of nationalism, but Tagore said nationalism was the most divisive thing. Using religion to divide was not what Tagore advocated. His novel 'Gora' was about religion and what it eventually means to man. His novel 'Ghare Baire's' message was that nationalism is an addiction that divides," the senior Trinamool leader remarked.
The prime minister has also been attacked for mentioning a dozen universities for their role in the fight for freedom but not mentioning Calcutta University. 'That university is India's oldest university and the one all universities from Lahore to the Arakans was affiliated to but the PM could not bring its name to his lips," Mr Bose said.
The cellular jail at Andaman and Nicobar islands should have been named after the numerous prisoners from Bengal who were incarcerated there, Mr Bose said. Instead, they chose to name the historic jail after Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologue Veer Savarkar who, Mr Bose said, filed five mercy petitions to the British so he could be released.
"Without understanding Tagore or internalising all the values he stood for, migrant politicians come and insult politicians in Bengal," Mr Bose said.