An Election Issue

Why They Attack Amartya Sen

Radhakanta Barik

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is attacking Prof Amartya Sen for his political and intellectual understanding of the identity politics and history of secularism. In his book on Identity politics he clearly defined a human being having many identities which does not fit into Hindutva politics as Savarkar defined that only one identity by birth on the basis of religion. This is against the understanding of the Hindutva politics. Furthermore his conceptualisation of secularism is much more complex. He finds the concept of secular state rooted in the history of India from Ashoka to Akabar to modern politics of Gandhi and Nehru. He speaks out in his book Argumentative Indian that Ashok being a Buddhist taking Satya Meb Jayate as an emblem of the state explains that truth is above all religions. Akabar inviting all religious thinkers belonging to different faiths coming to his durbar speaking over the spiritualism explains the state as a secular state ,not a theocratic state. Then modern state defined by Gandhi as truth and Nehru defined the state as a secular state above all the religions which explain the essence of the Art 25 to 29 which being demanded by the Hindutva for withdrawal of this section from Indian Constitution. This is against Prof Sen's complex understanding of the state and politics.

Amartya Sen in his book Argumentative Indian and other books published after this book carry the philosophy of an enlightened Bengali. Suffian traditions prevail in the medieval Bhakti movement of Bengal. His grand father has written a book on the Suffian tradition in Bengal. He has seen the riots during partition while staying in Shantiniketan where a Muslim labourer got killed while he was going to work in the field. This shocked him. Communalism grew like a fire in Bengal and which resulted in killing a large number of people belonging to both the communities which drew Gandhi who went on hunger strike. All his social experiences made him to appeal the political parties to abandon communalism and adopt an approach to development. Bengal is going to face election where the BJP has no agenda of governance except communalism and money and muscle power. This is going to disturb the communal harmony of Bengal. for so many years built by the Congress.

Prof Sen added a dimension to Indian democracy that is dialogueic dimension to democracy which is a strong one. As ancient democracy started in Greece with a dialogue and discussion where facts and figures and logic started working. On the cover page of his book there is a picture of two people having a dialogue in ancient India. There has been dialogue among saints and spiritual leaders. Dialogue is the basis of democracy and this is the strength of Indian democracy. After the Second World War more than 70 countries got liberated from colonialism. But almost all countries adopted democracy as a form of government. Except India and two more countries all other countries went for an authoritarian rule. India still believes in democracy because of its dilogueic tradition which adds to Indian democracy besides other institutional dimensions. Modi's Man Ki Bat is against the dialogue and discussion. He brings monologue which is against democracy. Dialogue brings dissent which is the essence of democracy. Today dissent is condemned as those oppose the Modi regime are being characterised as traitors and anti -national. But dissent is central to democracy. This is accepted by all High Courts of India whereas Supreme Court gives a judgment by Justice Chandrachud that dissent is the essential characteristic of democracy. This is the strength of Prof Sen's arguments. This is where Modi and his party differ from Sen and condemn him as ' spine less' by the President of BJP of Bengal. This is absolutely wrong and uncultured one which Prof Sen is not. On the contrary he is brave enough to argue with everybody and critical of every government in failing in providing schools and hospitals. This is where Modi is wrong as they believe in these public goods have to be provided by the private players. He differs from it and the state has moral and ethical responsibility to provide these two public goods at the reasonable price and maintain quality.

As Prof Sen raises a point, "Political parties sure have reasons to pursue individual goals, but rejection of communalism ought to be a shared value without which we shall not be worthy heirs of Tagore and Netaji." Prof Sen is right to plea with the political parties to join hands by which the BJP may not win the election. Communalism is a bigger threat to India and Bengal. For the last two elections such as 2014 and 2019 general elections the BJP brought gangsters to play their role in creating lawlessness by which they gained some seats in the belt where the Hindi speaking people live. This strategy they used in 2015 assembly election by which the BJP has gained some seats. To use the fault lines in politics of Bengal they have brought the laws against the Muslim community such CAA and NRC which may create problems in Bengal. The state has brilliant thinkers and leaders who played a creative role in social mobilisation of Bengali people without discriminating any community. Tagore a poet of all Bengalis and Indians opposed the jingoism and false nationalism. Netaji Bose had INA army consisting of all communities. He is right that this land of such stalwarts may be able to prevent communal mobilisation in the coming assembly election.

Prof Sen raises a critical point of the Bengali Culture where there is no place for Jai Shri Ram for which the Hindutva forces give the slogan of Jai Shri Ram and attack the property of the Muslims and dissident intellectuals. For the first time the Shantiketan where Sen owns the house and has come to controversy. The VC allegedly, a supporter of the Hindutva has created a constroversy telling lies regarding the property owned by Prof Sen. This is their parental house and his grand father came down here to settle when Tagore was alive. Later large number of Bengali intellectuals came and settled here. There is a colony of intellectuals and artists who live next to the Shantiniketan where the university is located. The VC has created a furore by sending the notice to Prof Sen regarding illegal occupation of the university land which is incorrect. The VC is an ambitious person who wants to be close to the BJP by inviting the Home Minister Shah and allowed him to sit in the chair where Tagore used to write .

Bengal is protecting itself from the attacks from the Hindtuva forces with the help of Tagore and fish. Odisha the neighbour is saving the state from the Hindutva by reading of the Bhagavat and Fish. But Hindutva forces have succeeded to reduce the eating of fish from seven days to three days as the fish market gets closed by the terror of Hindutva forces. But Bhagvat is a text still haunting these evil forces which teaches people to have food of choice . There is no after life after death which is the end of life. There is no heaven and hell. The BJP chief has gone down to the lowest level by criticising Prof Sen with three wives but it is wrong. Legally he divorced each woman and then got married to another.

People are expecting the better year for 2021 which is a hope against hope. Modi's lockdown destroyed Indian economy during 2020. Millions of people lost their jobs and without any social security package. According to the leading economists the year 2021 is going to be worse as there has been no new project for this year. As public investment brings private investment. This year the situation is going to be worse according to the leading economists as Modi has not done anything to improve the economic situation in 2021. Furthermore health situation is not looking bright as the corona vaccine is going to be available at a high cost and the private sector working in health sector is going to exploit the situation. They have done in provision of health services for corona patients by taking money from the citizens and government. They have turned richer and richer and people are turning poorer. He pleaded for a social package for the workers who lost the jobs during the Covid-19. But the Modis made a package for the Industrialists rather than workers. These workers got only five KG of Rice and one Kg of Dal instead of a social package.

The farmers' movement is not getting a solution which may result in low agricultural output which is going to be disastrous for the majority of Indians. 2020 and 21 will be the same for vast sections of Indians without jobs and without health facilities.

Prof Sen's emphasis on education and health and social security created furore in the right wingers. In the saffron scheme of thinking there is no concept of public goods and there are only private goods and the poor can have access to these goods only if they have money. Here they have strengthened the private hospitals in providing the service related to Corona-19 where the central government is paying Rs 4000 per patient and the state government is paying for three thousand rupees. The private owners of these hospitals started looting from the patients and central and state governments. Covid-19 is a way to help in accelerating the process of primitive accumulation be it health or education. Now the farmers' land has been taken as a source of primitive accumulation for the private capital. The farm laws have been framed by the central government to acquire the land of the farmers. Contract farming is going to help the industry to acquire the land of the farmers. The storage has been created by these houses to keep the grains of the farmers and they have been paid by the FCI for paying the industries to get Rs 700 crore from the government. Provision of food security through PDS and provision of health and education services are concerns of Prof Sen. In collaboration with Prof Haque they prepared a document for human development Index for UNDP which is being accepted as the basis of measuring the HDI in various countries of the world. India's position has gone down and down during the Modi period.

In terms of freedom and hunger index India is coming down in the world rank which has created furore in academic circle. Prof Sen gave a warning of the Covid totalitarianism which is being practised by Modi and Trump both which make them angry against Sen. Sen's model state is Kerala which he developed during 1950s which stands today. Kerala implemented the land reforms under the Communist government in 1957 and then provided education and health to all of its citizens. Modi is angry on Sen for showing the state of Kerala as a model which he countered with the Gujurat model and won the election in 2014. The conflicting models bring Modi and Sen into clash.

Prof Sen provided a critique of Modi's economic policies such as Demonetisation to social package for the workers losing their jobs during Covid-19. All the leading economists and social scientists supported this stand. This made Modi angry about the Harvard as an elite university where Sen is at present the Professor. Modi told that it is hardworking matters rather than Harvard. This brought a reply from Prof Sen that hard-working with intelligence can produce the result not simply hard working.

Hindutva in Bengal is taking Prof Sen as an election issue by bringing all sorts of controversies around him from his private life to intellectual- political life.

Vol. 53, No. 31, Jan 31 - Feb 6, 2021