Nobel Prize-winning Indian pleads for opposition unity to blow out Narendra Modi

S. N. M. Abdi
S. N. M. Abdi - Special to Al Arabiya English
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A frail yet nattily dressed 84-year-old man has taken up the cudgels against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accusing it of “misleading society” and urging opposition parties to forge a coalition to defeat the BJP in the coming general elections.

In his latest outburst against the Modi-led BJP, Sen remarked: “In 2014, a party with only 31 percent of votes and lots of ill motives came to power… Our democracy is in great danger today. I am not a nationalist but I do love my country. It is not like a sinking ship which we should abandon.”

He is no ordinary dissenter, though. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is a household name and one of India’s most respected public intellectuals. Equally combative in English and Bengali, Sen doesn’t mince his words when it comes to the country’s politics.

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India prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy. But there aren’t too many instances of a doyen of Sen’s stature taking on the regime of the day unmindful of the consequences of speaking truth to power. And his fame seems to be his armor.

The renowned development economist’s remedy is pretty straight-forward: all non-communal political parties must unite to evict the BJP from power in 2019 to save the country from ruin.

His advice has been gratefully acknowledged and appreciated by every non-BJP party. Opposition leaders, ranging from Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi to Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Sitaram Yechury say that they have no option left but to fight the BJP as one in the looming election battle.

Sen grabbed headlines in the run-up to the 2014 elections when he bluntly said: “As an Indian citizen I don’t want Modi as my PM. He has not done enough to make the minorities feel safe… My confidence in Modi’s ability to be a great defender of secular values isn’t there.”

French President Francois Hollande, center, honors Amartya Sen, with “Commandeur de la Legion d’ Honneur”, in New Delhi on Feb.15, 2013. (AP)
French President Francois Hollande, center, honors Amartya Sen, with “Commandeur de la Legion d’ Honneur”, in New Delhi on Feb.15, 2013. (AP)

‘Hard work vs Harvard’

Later Sen branded Modi’s demonetization drive “despotic” eliciting a befuddled retort from the PM that “hard work is more important than Harvard”.

The BJP’s biggest handicap vis-à-vis Sen is that it has no one to take on the Economics Nobel Laureate. BJP spokespersons who respond to Sen’s caustic remarks on prime time television are pygmies compared to him and cut no ice in the public fora.

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In July Sen declared that under Modi India has taken a “quantum jump in the wrong direction”. According to Sen: “Twenty years ago, India was the second best after Sri Lanka among the six countries in the region: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan. Today it is the second worst in the region after Pakistan.”

In Suman Ghosh’s documentary, The Argumentative Indian, Sen freely articulates his nagging fears and concerns about BJP rule.

Government appointed censors asked Ghosh to delete eight words, including “Gujarat”, “Hindutva”, “Hindu India” and “cow”, revealing how nervous and worried the BJP is about Sen’s criticism.

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