EXCLUSIVE: Amartya Sen on the Hindu right and India under NDA
By Ruhi Khan In London
The Nobel laureate says India is not an intolerant country but a few radical groups are dragging its name through the mud.
Economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen spoke to Mumbai Mirror about a wide array of subjects, ranging from the atmosphere of intolerance prevalent in India, an inflamed section of the citizenry, a Hindu right that blindly invokes the Vedas, his disillusionment with Narendra Modi, and why the Prime Minister should be welcomed to the UK.
Professor Sen was at the London School of Economics on Friday to discuss his new book The Country of First Boys with the economist and academician Lord Nicholas Stern, following which he spoke to this correspondent.
Edited excerpts from the interview follow.
Do you think India is turning into an intolerant country?
There are elements of intolerance in India which is very regrettable. I won’t say the country is turning intolerant. There is a small group of very activist minority of the Hindutva movement which are involved in that. The bulk of the population is not intolerant and I don’t think India is an intolerant country in any way.
What do you think the real issue is?
It’s easy to inflame the population into violence by playing up one identity. So it’s not just an issue of intolerance. It’s also about…the glory of India is that we have different communities, cultures and we have lived together in this multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi lingual society for many, many years. So we must not just be concerned that there is not enough tolerance but that there should be more celebration of the Indian pluralist society. You see the problem is on one side not recognising the threat (human rights violations) and on the other side making it look irresistible.
You have always said that if in a democracy you are unhappy with the government, then you should express your opinions. Is there room for dissent in India?
Certainly there is room for dissent. I often favour China for education and healthcare, which are completely neglected areas in India. But one of the ways India is better is that you can still express dissenting opinion to the government. Is it easier now than before? I don’t think so. I think it’s the opposite. But the attacks that come don’t always come from the government; it comes from a docile and very loyal social media. I have experienced that myself. When I have said something that they don’t approve of, I get ten thousand emails by next morning.
What would you say to them?
The problem with Hindu extremists is that they invoke the Vedas in everything without having any knowledge about them. I cannot find a more sophisticated argument for the agnostic in the Vedas.
If you tell the Hindutva activists that, they will say that I am insulting it. The Vedas show that the ability to do good things is independent of religion. They are extremely interesting texts but the Hindu extremists recite it without knowing what it says… (Laughs)
Perhaps they should be put in a room with you for a debate on the Vedas…
(Laughs) I would love to have a debate with them on the Vedas any day…
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in the UK in less than a week. There is raging debate whether he should be welcome.
Yes he must. He is the elected prime minister of the country so he should be welcomed. Politeness requires that. And respect to India requires that. But this doesn’t mean he must not be questioned on his policies.
How do you think India is doing under his watch?
I’m not his great fan. I voted against him. Has he done better than I expected? I don’t think he has. Hindu extremists believe Modi is a reincarnation of God. I was about to sue on the grounds of blasphemy. God has to die first to be reincarnated and as a good Hindu I was totally offended. So I wanted to sue but I didn’t know what the courts would say to that.
I did not expect Modi to correct the path of the previous government, which was pretty bad. The idea was that some kind of business incentive would make it all up but that I think is a very bad theory.
I didn’t expect the RSS to understand multiple identities. But I also didn’t expect it to take such a naked form as it has.
Four people have died for eating beef and others have been victimised. He has made the academia field completely at the mercy of the administration. I believe India needs more reform. And until he reins in the pro capitalist right wing hyenas, it’s very difficult thing to give him high marks.