Friday, January 21, 2022

Fifth column: Questions for a Nobel laureate Amartya Sen

What I do not understand is why Dr Sen as a virtual advisor to the last government did not get Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi to change this horrible state of affairs.

Written by Tavleen Singh |
July 12, 2015 12:00:00 am
Amartya Sen, Narendra Modi, bjp government, nda government, modi government, Congress, Nehruvian socialism, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, tavleen singh column, indian express column, ie column, Amartya Sen

As someone who blames Nehruvian socialism for the shabby state of our dear Bharat Mata, I miss no opportunity to take on leftist ideologues. This week it is the mightiest of them, Amartya Sen, who gives me a chance to stick the knife in once more. The Nobel laureate has been back in the motherland to promote his latest book and has reiterated his right ‘as an Indian citizen’ to declare Narendra Modi unworthy of being prime minister because of his dodgy record on secularism. Since the journalists who interviewed him did not ask the question that begs to be asked, I am going to begin with it. Did Dr Sen ever say the same thing about Rajiv Gandhi?

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Since he is an ‘Indian citizen’ who spends nearly all of his time earning laurels in foreign lands, he was perhaps not here during Rajiv’s tenure. So may I remind him of what happened? Within days of his becoming prime minister, the streets of Delhi were littered with the bodies of dead Sikhs. More than 3,000 were killed in three days and the city’s morgues were so full that bodies were burned like garbage in public places. This was not a riot but a pogrom organised by the State and justified by the prime minister.


In Gujarat in 2002, the violence was horrible but both Hindus and Muslims were killed. In Delhi in 1984 not a single Hindu lay among the dead. Did Dr Sen make a statement saying that Rajiv Gandhi had no right to be prime minister? Did he make it after more than a thousand Muslims were killed in Bhagalpur in 1989? Or after unarmed Muslims from Meerut’s Hashimpura quarter were mowed down inside a truck by policemen two years earlier?

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In the interview he gave Rajdeep Sardesai, Dr Sen expressed admiration for Kerala’s model of development. So has he noticed the virulent form of Islam that has risen in this state in the past few years? As an academic, did he say anything when in the summer of 2010 fanatics from the Popular Front chopped off the hand of Professor T J Joseph because they objected to an examination paper he set?

Speaking of academia, may I come to Dr Sen’s second reason for objecting to Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. He said there was more interference in the exalted realms of academia now than ever before. He listed academic institutions whose leftist heads had been replaced by people who leaned towards the right. When it comes to this change, Dr Sen is both right and wrong. Leftist historians and academics who have erased even such details of Indian history as the Muslim invasions must be replaced. But they must be replaced by scholars, not pamphleteers, because at the high table of academia there cannot be those who have written pamphlets and not books.

The sad truth is that the Indian right has been for so long denied space in the public square that few scholars exist. In passing may I mention that on Nalanda University’s website, the people who destroyed this ancient seat of learning are described only as ‘invaders’. As an academic Dr Sen should agree that it is dangerous to erase so important a historical detail as the religion of those invaders.

If there is one thing that Dr Sen is absolutely right about, it is that India will never be an economic superpower if it continues to neglect education and healthcare. The average Indian child leaves school without learning to read a children’s storybook or solve a simple mathematical problem, and this is terrible. It is just as terrible that government hospitals are so bad that even very poor Indians are forced to use private health services.

What I do not understand, though, is why Dr Sen as a virtual advisor to the last government did not get Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi to change this horrible state of affairs. Dr Sen’s comrade, Jean Dreze, was a member of Sonia’s National Advisory Council and could have bestowed upon India an education policy that made a serious effort to modernise Indian schools and colleges. Would this not have been far more useful than MNREGA?

If I have deep contempt for Nehruvian socialism, it is mostly because I cannot understand why it failed so totally to make those investments in public education and healthcare that would have made India an economic superpower already. It is a correction that needs to be made urgently and it is unfortunate that the Prime Minister that Dr Sen so despises has not noticed the need for a real education minister in his Cabinet. The Ministry of Human Resource Development needs to be abolished like the Planning Commission was and replaced by an Education Ministry. Without this change, India has little chance of catching up.

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