Kolkata: A Bengal-based writer and researcher returned a prestigious award conferred upon her in 2019 by the Paschimbanga Bangla Academy after the academy gave Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee a special literary award.
Ratna Rashid Banerjee, a renowned Bengali author who has written over 30 books, returned the ‘Annada Shankar Smarak Samman’ because she felt “insulted by the move to give a literary award to the CM”.
Mamata Banerjee was given the award at a function organised by the government’s information and culture department on the occasion of Rabindranath Tagore’s birth anniversary.
According to the academy, Mamata was honoured for ‘her contribution to the cause of literature’. The West Bengal chief minister received the award for her collection of poetry titled ‘Kabita Bitan’, released at the International Kolkata Book Fair in 2020. It is a collection of over 900 poems.
In a letter to the academy chairman and the West Bengal education minister Bratya Basu, Ratna Rashid Banerjee said that the award has become a “crown of thorns” for her. “As a writer, I feel insulted by the move to give a literary award to the CM. It will set a bad precedent. The statement of the academy praising the relentless literary pursuit of the honourable chief minister is a travesty of truth,” she said in the letter.
“This is my protest against that decision. I cannot accept that. I do not consider CM’s book ‘Kabita Bitan’ as literature at all. She is our chief minister. We gave her a vote. I am an elderly lady. I know the language of the pen only. I don’t belong to any political party. And not even remain in any lobby. We know she is in a higher post which is not reachable for us. It will set a bad precedent,” she said.
Speaking to PTI, Ratna said, “We admire and respect the chief minister for her political battle, the massive mandate she got from people to rule the state for three terms. We had voted for her. But I cannot equate her contribution to politics with the claim that she worked for the cause of literature. I am not aware of.”
“The chief minister could have shown maturity by not accepting the award,” she added.
Meanwhile, writer and editor Anadiranjan Biswas, who was a member of the Bengali advisory board of the Sahitya Academy, has also resigned from his position, expressing dismay over the decision to confer the literary award on Mamata. He told Bengali daily Anandabazar that poetry had been insulted on Tagore’s birth anniversary thanks to such a move.
Speaking to India Today on the issue, senior BJP leader Sishir Bajoria said that it was a “move by the TMC to please Mamata Banerjee”.
“This is unfortunate. Authors and poets will definitely feel displeased. Mamata Banerjee’s minister is giving her the award, which she is not even accepting. What Ratna has done is her way of protesting. It is natural that literary icons will feel irked,” the BJP leader said. He added, “This is TMC’s way of internal competition to show who can please Mamata Banerjee more,” said the BJP leader.
However, the Trinamool Congress downplayed the Award Wapsi and slammed the author, Ratna Rashid.
“Who is Ratna Rashid? I read that she got an award. That too, from the Bangla Academy. Some people try to take advantage of things. The BJP should not teach us about literature and culture. They vandalised Vidyasagar’s statue, so they should not lecture us on this issue,” said Trinamool MP Sougata Roy to India Today.