"If Vajpayee wants me to return Bharat Ratna, I will certainly return it"

Rajya Sabha member Chandan Mitra’s demand for stripping economist Amartya Sen of the Bharat Ratna on Thursday triggered a slugfest with the Congress attacking the BJP.

However, an unfazed Dr. Sen stuck to his views that he did not want Narendra Modi as Prime Minister and said he would not “surrender his right to speak his mind” as an individual just because he was a Bharat Ratna. He said his reservations were over Gujarat Chief Minister and not the BJP.

“Do I regret my views on Modi.? No. By getting Bharat Ratna, I do not lose my right to speak my views as an individual. It is my right to speak up. I thought it was my duty to stand and speak up for the majority. I got Bharat Ratna but...,” the noted economist said as a controversy raged on Mr. Mitra’s demand that the NDA, which conferred Bharat Ratna on him, should take it away if it was voted to power. “Bharat Ratna is a jewel of the whole country. No BR should speak for or against any party or leader. Sen should join Congress political team,” Mr. Mitra had said on Twitter on Tuesday.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said that the Bharat Ratna debate was unfortunate. She and another senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi said it was Mr. Mitra’s personal opinion. Another leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy said Dr. Sen’s views on Modi were not acceptable.

The Congress attacked the BJP for its “fascist mentality“.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari hit out at the BJP for its attack on Dr. Sen saying it was .“regrettable” that the BJP resorted not only to the “ignominy” of asking Dr. Sen to return the Bharat Ratna, something that happened for the first time, but some of its spokespersons also sought return of his Nobel prize.

“What kind of mentality is this.? What is this if not fascism.? That either you are with us or against us and if you are against us, return the Bharat Ratna. What wrong Amartya Sen has done? Does the BJP believe in the freedom of expression?. This is a big blow to the right to express, write and speak,” Mr. Tewari said.

He said while Gujarat Chief Minister gave statements daily and the party defends defended his right to speak, “they think the voice of others should be muzzled.”.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde also disapproved of the demand and said Dr. Sen’s views on Mr. Modi were “correct”.

Dr. Sen said it was unfortunate that such a demand had come forth and termed it as a “personal” view of Mr. Mitra.

“Mr. Chandan Mitra may not know that the Bharat Ratna was given to me by the BJP-led government and was handed to me by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. If Mr Vajpayee wants me to return it, I will certainly return it,” he said.

He added that during the NDA rule, he has had a lot of discussion with leaders like L.K. Advani, Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh and Arun Jaitley.

Dr. Sen said he believed in individual liberty and minority rights. “Protection of minority rights and individual liberty depends on support of the majority. It is the duty of the majority to make sure violations do not take place. I am making a simple point. It would be unfortunate if a Prime Minister has to carry a load,” he said in an apparent reference to Mr. Modi’s handling 2002 riots.

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