Wants greater subsidies for the poor and end to religion-based politics

The seventh edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival began here on Friday with eminent economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen making a “wish list” — of poor getting more subsidies, discarding religion-based politics, media becoming sensitive and responsible and humanities getting equal attention in the race for scientific advancement.

Rajasthan Governor Margaret Alva inaugurated the five-day event by lighting lamps on the sprawling lawns of Diggi Palace.

In his keynote address, Prof. Sen used an anecdote about his divine encounter with the “Goddess of Medium Things” to throw light on his vision for a vibrant and democratic Indian society and the welfare state taking care of vulnerable sections.

Elaborate security arrangements were made at the festival venue. The JLF had witnessed major controversies in the past two successive years, first over writer Salman Rushdie’s proposed visit in 2012 and later over sociologist Ashis Nandy’s allegedly derogatory remarks on Dalits, tribals and OBCs in 2013.

As many as 240 authors will be speaking at 175 sessions spread over six venues at the heritage resort. The festival organisers are expecting a turnout of two lakh visitors.

“We haven’t done anything to avoid controversies. We are here to ensure that everyone has the freedom to present their views,” said JLF producer Sanjoy Roy.

Prof. Sen, in his address, praised Aam Aadmi Party for skilfully using the opportunities offered by the country’s democracy, but said it had yet to learn the direction for governance even as dealing with corruption would require several administrative reforms.

“There have been many achievements already, and it is not the case that nothing happens here... Education and health care have surged ahead and so has economic growth,” said Prof. Sen while referring to achievements in polio eradication, dealing with cyclones and droughts and averting the threat of AIDS epidemic.

The celebrated economist, who has voiced his opinion on several contemporary issues, criticised a recent judgment of the Supreme Court that has criminalised homosexuality. “The Supreme Court has made a strictly private behaviour a social crime,” he said while expressing hope that the apex court would “listen to the voices of Indian people.”

Prof. Sen later addressed another session on “Choices and Freedoms” in conversation with Penguin Random House chairman John Makinson.

Kumbh of literature

Ms. Margaret Alva said the event had made Jaipur the “Kumbh of literature” over the years and helped create an institutional space for dialogue. “We need to think about the institution of democracy with a larger perspective and celebrate the coming together of ideas and arguments. People’s will must be reflected through institutional mechanisms.”

The sessions on the opening day were devoted to the themes of global war, dominance of the privileged, women’s empowerment, revolutions without borders.

Some of the remarks on the way political parties function and the prospects for BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi generated heated debate among the audience.

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