Nobel Laureate and Bharat Ratna recipient Mr. Amartya Sen while acknowledging that Gujarat Chief Minister Mr. Narendra Modi had performed well in building infrastructure in his state felt that he had not done enough in the social sector to uplift the poor. He also criticized Mr. Modi for creating distrust in the minority community for which reason he said he did not want to see Mr. Modi as Prime Minister. These views could be challenged but were no more than criticism voiced by one individual, however famous or distinguished he might be.
Now consider the reaction to Mr. Amartya Sen voiced by BJP leaders.
Rajya Sabha MP and distinguished editor Mr. Chandan Mitra was first off the mark. He tweeted on the Internet: “Is Sen even a voter in India? Next NDA government must strip him of his Bharat Ratna.” Addressing Mr. Sen he tweeted: “Don’t peddle your unsolicited comments on India. We know you as an economist who sells Congress line for a living.” As a senior journalist he must know that the last observation could perhaps even be deemed defamatory. But the gem from Mr. Mitra was: “Those who are upset with my suggestion about Mr. Sen and Bharat Ratna, can you show me examples of others who do party politics after getting BR?”
Firstly, even by the wildest imagination Mr. Sen’s remarks cannot be construed as “doing party politics”. Secondly, after C Rajagopalachari received the Bharat Ratna in 1954 he formed the Swatantra Party. Pandit Nehru as Prime Minister continued with party politics long after receiving the Bharat Ratna in 1955. So did Indira Gandhi after receiving the Bharat Ratna in 1971.
Surely Mr. Mitra as a senior journalist would know this?
It might be recalled that it was the NDA government led by Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee that conferred the Bharat Ratna to Mr. Sen. Is it the contention of Mr. Mitra that the honor was conferred in the expectation that Mr. Sen would behave like a BJP party loyalist thereafter? Does he imply that anyone challenging the BJP view deserves a punitive response? To this writer it was simply astounding that a journalist of Mr. Mitra’s distinction and caliber would voice such views.
The suspicion arose. Was this outburst inspired by party higher ups and delivered by Mr. Mitra as one faction’s loyalist?
The suspicion that it was a factional decision despite Mr. Mitra’s assertion that he was only expressing personal opinion was heightened by other BJP leaders jumping into the fray. BJP spokesperson Mr. Shahnawaz Hussain chimed in: “The Vajpayee government had impartially awarded him for the name he earned for himself at the global level… BJP disagrees with his remarks and he should not become a tool in the hands of the Congress.” BJP spokesperson Mrs. Meenakshi Lekhi endorsed Mr. Hussain: “Sen’s credentials are now being questioned by many economists… we do not expect the present government to take action because they are using Sen as a political worker.”
If a Bharat Ratna recipient expresses a political opinion does that warrant some “action” by the government? Further criticism of Mr. Sen for his failure to endorse Mr. Modi as Prime Minister was voiced by BJP MP Mr. Kirti Azad. Mr. Subramaniam Swamy disclosed that he had been against conferring the Bharat Ratna to Mr. Sen in the first place.
What has led to all this hysteria among BJP leaders in response to one man’s opinion? The biggest criticism against Mr. Modi voiced by his opponents is that he is dictatorial and a threat to individual freedom. Does not this belligerent reaction to Mr. Amartya Sen’s views strengthen fears that Mr. Modi becoming Prime Minister would threaten the very continuance of democracy? Anyone having the faintest acquaintance with basic democratic norms would know that the BJP reaction is anything but democratic. Does this response therefore reflect plain stupidity or is there something deeper?
Consider what Mr. Narendra Modi himself said about criticism in an interview given to the Reuters news agency on July 12, 2013: Responding to a question about his attitude to criticism Mr. Modi said:
“I always say the strength of democracy lies in criticism. If there is no criticism that means there is no democracy. And if you want to grow, you must invite criticism. And I want to grow, I want to invite criticism. But I’m against allegations. There is a vast difference between criticism and allegations. For criticism, you have to research, you’ll have to compare things, you’ll have to come with data, factual information, and then you can criticize. Now no one is ready to do the hard work. So the simple way is to make allegations. In a democracy, allegations will never improve situations. So, I’m against allegations but I always welcome criticism.”
Mr. Modi should tell the public whether what Mr. Amartya Sen said was criticism or an allegation. If the former, let him by all means rebut the criticism with his own arguments. One is certain he has plenty.
That is what democracy is all about.
That is how Mr. Modi described democracy to the Reuters news agency. Let him respond not only to Mr. Sen’s views if he considers them politically significant. More importantly, he should pull up his party colleagues who by their hysteria are doing untold harm to his prospects. In conclusion, let him carefully appraise the reaction of his party colleagues to Mr. Sen’s remarks in the light of the Byzantine intrigues that beset Indian politics today.
Then let him decide: Do these reactions reflect sickening sycophancy or silent sabotage? Both motives could prove to be equally damaging to his poll prospects.