Supreme Court of India has been slow & divided, says Prof Amartya Sen to New Yorker

In an interview to New Yorker magazine, Amartya Sen spoke of his hopes and fears about Indian democracy. The apex court, he laments, has not been as much of a guardian to plurality as it could be

Supreme Court of India has been slow & divided, says Prof Amartya Sen to New Yorker
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“Democracy is Government by discussion; and, if you make discussion fearful, you are not going to get a democracy, no matter how you count the votes,” said Nobel laureate Amartya Sen ( 85) in an interview published in New Yorker magazine.

“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,” said Sen, known for being outspoken. He also made the following points in the interview:

· Compared to 2007, when India had a Muslim President, a Sikh Prime Minister and a Christian leading the ruling party, in 2019 all of them are Hindus. In 2007 also a majority of MPs were Hindus, but they were not trying to impose their views on everyone. But in today’s India one can chastise a Muslim for eating beef (though the Vedas do not prohibit beef eating).

· For a thousand years India was a Buddhist country and that is also part of India’s heritage. But when attempts were made to revive Nalanda University—the oldest university in the world started in the fifth century---with cooperation from East Asian countries, the ‘Hindu’ Government did not want to promote it as a Buddhist University but it was increasingly made to look like a Hindu establishment.

· Narendra Modi is very dynamic and a hugely successful politician. He and the ruling party are also backed by huge sums of money. But is it correct to suggest that Modi and BJP enjoy the support of a majority of Indians? He would have said yes, Prof Sen tells the interviewer, had there been a free Press, independent TV channels, no restrictions on advertisements and no crack down on free speech.

· But with 200 million Muslims, 200 million Dalits and 100 million Adivasis in India receiving a raw deal, and with a sizeable section of Hindus openly sceptical, he doubts if Narendra Modi does enjoy the support of a majority of Indians.

“There would have been a victory if there was a press without fear, censorship from government, and the tyranny of advertising control. If all this hadn’t happened, and he had won the election, I would have said yes,” the Nobel laureate quipped while answering questions on his own life and work besides the situation in India today.

The link to the full interview in New Yorker is here.

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