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Updated: April 30, 2014 11:43 IST

‘Shedding communal image a challenge to BJP'

    Vinay Kumar
    Anita Joshua
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Nobel laureate Amartya Sen during an interview, in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photo: V. Sudershan
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen during an interview, in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photo: V. Sudershan

It's good BJP kept issues like Ram Temple out of its main agenda: Amartya Sen

Although concerned at the prospect of Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen does not agree with those who say they would leave the country if the Gujarat Chief Minister occupies the top office.

“It is ridiculous to change your country because you do not like the government. You then change the government,” Professor Sen told The Hindu on Tuesday before proceeding to Shantiniketan to cast his vote for the first time in 13 years.

Pointing out that Mr. Modi was not his choice for PM, he said lots of Indians held the same view. As for Mr. Modi’s attempt to project a soft image and the BJP trying to steer clear of contentious issues, he said: “It’s very good they have kept some Hindu issues like construction of the Ram Temple out of their main agenda. But does that mean that a person reared in the RSS, where the Hindu-Muslim division has played a substantial role in their thinking, can actually suppress these ideas in reality? This is to be seen.”

Saying it is an electorally-sound decision to keep contentious issues on the back-burner, he said “living up to the non-communal image would be one of the challenges that the BJP will have to rise to,” if it comes to power as the leader of a coalition.

On Mr. Modi’s efforts to appear accommodating, Prof. Sen said: “It is very difficult to distinguish between what is being done for the purpose of a bigger appeal in an election and what is being done out of a genuine conviction. It’s a good idea for him to appear accommodating to get some votes but if he were to come to office, more reassurance is needed on that in terms of actual action. I am not pining to have him as the Prime Minister.”

'Polio, AIDS successes bigger than n-deal'

Dr. Sen questioned the declaration by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a friend of his, that the India-U.S. nuclear deal was the greatest achievement of the UPA government.

Prof. Sen said: “I think he gave the wrong answer when asked about his government’s greatest achievement. If the deal is an achievement, it is a minor one.”

In his opinion, the United Progressive Alliance government’s bigger achievement was the eradication of polio and taming of the AIDS epidemic. “This is also the period in which, certainly under the first UPA, the country reached the level of growth it had never seen before. Even now, as the growth has fallen, it is still higher than most of the world,” said the economist. While he finds the disappointment with the outgoing government “understandable,” Prof. Sen maintained that it would be unfair to say that the UPA had not achieved anything in a decade. Of the view that the government was on the right path in paying some attention to health and education, besides food security, he said more could have been done and planned better.

On subsidy, particularly in the light of the Congress manifesto promising to retain only the absolutely necessary subsidies, Prof. Sen said: “There has to be an attempt to cut subsidies. But before that there has to be an understanding of where the subsidies really go. The government spends a little over one per cent of the GDP on food security and employment regeneration (MGNREGA) but spends more than twice that much on subsidising electricity, cooking gas and other petroleum products, including diesel for luxury cars as well as fertilizer subsidies, which go primarily to rich farmers.”

Underscoring the fact that air-conditioning in five-star hotels was also subsidised, he said: “If you read the newspapers, you don’t get this impression. People talk about massive fiscal irresponsibility when it comes to subsidies for the poor but not subsidies for the comfortably off, for the relatively rich in Indian terms.”

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