Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not have the “breadth of vision” about a multireligious and multiethnic India. In an interview to The New Yorker last month, Sen said Modi was a dynamic and enormously successful politician, but had been “relating to the propaganda” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh since childhood. The interview was published on Sunday.

Sen said the RSS had generated a “quite effective” outlook, that India had been “dominated by Muslim invaders for a long time, and it is our time, and we should destroy that for once and all”. According to him, earlier, the outfit and “pro-Hindu movement” were not a threat as “they seemed like a fringe”. “But that fringe gradually became more dominant until the latest election, and they had a massive victory, a victory partially based on political effectiveness,” Sen said.


Sen said multiple identities had helped Bangladesh a lot, and had been helping India too, until “there was a deliberate attempt to undermine it”. “Bangladesh has been, in many ways, more successful than India now,” he told The New Yorker, citing life expectancy and women’s literacy data. “ terms of the kind of narrowness of Hindu thinking, it is not reflected in a similar narrowness of Muslim thinking in Bangladesh. I think multiple identities have done a lot for Bangladesh.”

Sen said everything today was dominated by a “hard-nosed, hard-Hindutva thinking”, where one can now “chastise a Muslim” for eating beef. Citing the Vedas to say Hinduism did not prohibit beef-eating, Sen said there had been a decline “not only from secularism and democracy in post-independence India but also in the understanding of the heritage even of Hindu India”.

Sen alleged that when the Nalanda University was being revived, the “Hindu government made it no longer a prominent Buddhist university, and it was made to look more and more like a Hindu establishment”. In 2015, Sen had withdrawn his nomination for a second term as the chancellor of the Nalanda University in Bihar.


Talking about the Indian Constitution and the judiciary, Sen said a political group or party or movement which has a huge amount of support can manipulate the situation pretty sharply. “And here I think the Indian Supreme Court is very slow and divided, and, despite the good it has done, hasn’t been able to be as much of a guardian of pluralism as it could be,” he added. Sen said the court has been “very slow, and some of the justices have been quite willing to kowtow to what the government wants”.

‘Difficult to say majority supports Modi’

Sen said he doubted if the majority in India actually supported Modi or is just afraid to speak their minds. Out of more than a billion people, 400 million are Muslims and Dalit, 100 million are from the Scheduled Tribes, and “quite a large proportion of the Hindu skeptical” about Modi, he said. “Many of them have been shot,” he claimed. “Many of them have been put in prison. In these circumstances, to say that a majority supports him would be difficult.”

He quoted John Stuart Mill to say that democracy is government by discussion. “…if you make discussion fearful, you are not going to get a democracy, no matter how you count the votes. And that is massively true now. People are afraid now. I have never seen this before. When someone says something critical of the government on the phone with me, they say, ‘I’d better talk about it when I see you because I am sure that they are listening to this conversation.’ That is not a way to run a democracy. And it is also not a way of understanding what the majority wants.”


Speaking about the 2019 General Election results, Sen said the BJP had massive amount of money. “I was quite surprised how the business community, not just two or three that are often quoted as the big donors, they got support from the bulk of the business community,” he said. “They had more money and gumption at the time of the election than any other party. They won an election with a massive majority, but, again, you have to look at the issues I have written about, even in the context in America. The electoral system has its flaws. That massive majority he had was based on less than 40% of the vote.”

He said strong propaganda, fear factor and the excitement of a war between Pakistan and India played vital roles in the run-up to the General Elections. “Worse than war was war hysteria,” said Sen. “Given that that’s the test of Hindutva being popular, it wasn’t as popular as the vote indicated. Every time there have been attempts to see whether minorities should be crushed, in the rural areas in India, you don’t see that massive desire to crush the minorities. There is a tolerance of minorities, and that is a strong tradition that continues to this day.”

Sen said he was surprised and shocked to know that the Gates Foundation awarded Modi last month. “I think the world likes success, and I think the Gateses like success,” he said. “And Modi is so powerful that he is often seen as a success of some kind. I was surprised and shocked, quite frankly, by the news of the Gates award to Modi.”

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