“Among the anti-national people, there would be Rabindranath Tagore and sometimes Mahatma Gandhi too. We should never take the view that we should never be anti-national, anti-government or anti-anything,” quipped economist Amartya Sen.
Sen was in a conversation with The Wire editor Siddharth Varadarajan on ‘choices in the age of populism, new nationalism and new ideas of citizenship’ at the first Neelabh Mishra Public Dialogue at New Delhi on February 28. Neelabh Mishra was the editor of National Herald.
Setting the tone for evening, Varadarajan emphasised that the conversation was an unscripted dialogue, “unlike certain personalities who do want questions in advance”.
There is nothing wrong in being anti-government, explained 85-year-old Sen. “There are three ways of being anti-government. The first type where you think the government is making a mistake; second is when you are sowing discord and third is when the government itself believes in magic such as in demonetisation. Some of these would qualify as anti-national,” stresses Sen.
Sen, who is the author of Argumentative Indian, said being national isn’t our only identity and maintained that all of have multiple identities. “We need more of the argumentative side in our education system. People are being taken to court for sedition if you disagree with the government, but that cannot be a reason. If there is an intolerance of an argument or if you eat beef or if you trade in cow skin, then that is a violation of basic humanity. If there is something we must fight for, it is to reinstate the foundation of human values that we all must have,” explained Sen.
Advising the citizens of the country, Sen said we still live in a democracy and no battle in the world was ever won without an argument. “We ought to recognise our duties because if you think the government is making a mistake, then it is your duty, not just your right or your freedom, to talk about it. This is why the whole charge of sedition in this country is wrong. I think we can win this battle again and again. If we don’t win this battle, it would be because we didn’t try hard to do it,” contended Sen, while pointing towards the voting duties of every citizen.
Sen said everyone must take their duties as a citizen seriously and that was not just voting. “This includes participation and argumentation. There is no substitution for that.”