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Literary award for Mamata begins to draw protests

By Bishwanath Ghosh

Two Bengali literary figures have taken actions in protest against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee being feted recently for her contribution to Bengali literature.

It was last Monday, May 9, on the 161st birth anniversary of poet Rabindranath Tagore, that the West Bengal Government announced it was instituting a new award, to be given once in three years, to honour those enriching Bengali literature, and that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, as the author of a poetry collection titled Kobita Bitan, would be its first recipient.

While the announcement — made by the State’s Education Minister and Bangla Academy president Bratya Basu at a public event at which Ms. Banerjee was present — came as a surprise to many and was questioned privately on social media groups, no prominent figure reacted publicly. But soon afterwards, writer-researcher Ratna Rashid Bandopadhyay issued a statement, in Bengali, that she was returning the Annada Shankar Ray Memorial Award that she had received from the Bangla Academy in 2019.

“I was pleased to accepted the award back then. But yesterday, I came to know from the news media that the Bangla Academy has instituted a new award this year and that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been conferred the award for her relentless contribution towards Bengali literature. Nothing can be farther from the truth,” Ms. Bandopadhyay, who has authored over 30 books.

“The Bangla Academy, by giving the award to the Chief Minister, has not only set a dangerous precedent but also insulted all those who are actively involved in enriching Bengali literature. In this context, the award conferred on me in 2019 is now akin to a crown of thorns and I am returning it,” the Burdwan-based writer said.

At the same time, editor-publisher Anadiranjan Biswas, a member of the Bengali advisory board of the Sahitya Akademi, also announced that he was quitting the body, even though he did not name the West Bengal Chief Minister. “I always hold the poems of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in high esteem since [they sustain me]. But on his 161st birth anniversary, sheer insult was caused to Bengali poetry in Kolkata. Earlier too, I have observed that whims, caprices, nepotism and pick-and-choose factors are ruling contemporary Bengali literature in Kolkata.  Hence, my conscience and morality have goaded me to take this ultimate action [of resigning from the advisory board],” the Port Blair-based Mr. Biswas said in a statement.

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