Thirteen years after he last cast his vote, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is headed for his home turf Birbhum to exercise his voting right Wednesday, in what he terms as a very important election that will decide India’s economic future and its secular identity.
“That is one reason why I am here but why I stayed away all these years was simply because I had teaching commitments… It is a very important election. Country is at crossroads on what kind of focus we want on development, whether we should opt for a more human-centred approach or whether we concentrate on merely building physical capital like roads,” he said. “Modinomics, as it is called, has a focus on the latter and Gujarat record is bad in neglect of human capital. I’m concerned the way that dialogue has proceeded.”
“The second issue is of secularism — Modi may be absolved by one judge but there were numerous charges that were not pressed. Muslims are scared of Modi though many well-placed Muslims have joined him,” said Sen. He has in the past said that as an Indian citizen he does not want Narendra Modi as his prime minister.
The importance of this election, Sen said, is also in the fact that the country needs to ensure that the momentum of the anti-corruption agitation that spawned the Aam Aadmi Party, is not lost. But he conceded that the party itself when it came to power in Delhi came across as an outfit which had no clear vision. “Corruption has always been there, record of the present government is bad, there were scams in the BJP government too. Why shouldn’t illiteracy be a major issue like that? Why shouldn’t the fact that India has no basic healthcare system unlike China, Korea, Thailand be an issue too.”
He said the record of the present government is not exactly stellar in a human-centred development approach although towards the end it made attempts towards the end which may not have been very well thought out but may have had more commitment that what the alternatives seemed to be. There is no ideal party but “some parties are distinctly less ideal than others”, Sen said.
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He dismissed notions that the Gandhi vs Modi debate in the country is in economic terms really a Sen vs (Jagdish) Bhagwati debate. “That’s absolute nonsense. If anyone had read my book with Jean Dreze, would know how critical I am of what has been achieved by Congress. It does not criticise Rahul Gandhi because he was not in office — he went to my college Trinity, I met him there, had lunch with him but have not ever had any political conversation with him. I can’t say what connection there may be between Mr Modi or any other economist like Mr Bhagwati but so far as I am concerned this is totally ridiculous.” He did not comment on Bhagwati’s recent willingness to be an economic adviser to an NDA government.
The 81-year-old will fly to Kolkata on an early morning flight and then undertake a three-hour road journey to reach his Shantiniketan home for lunch and voting and then fly back to Delhi.