07/08/2015, 00.00
INDIA
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Amartya Sen: Without focusing on people, Narendra Modi cannot make India progress

In an interview with a well-known national newspaper, the Nobel Laureate for Economics takes stock of the first year of the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister. The intellectual reiterates concern for the more radical aspects of the new administration, and talks about the persistent problem of gender inequality.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - India deserves better than Narendra Modi ‘s economic development program and the drift Hindutva that is taking over his government, according to Amartya Sen, noted economist and Nobel laureate.

In an interview with The Indian Express on the release of his latest book, The Country of First Boys, Sen took stock of the Prime Minister’s first year of government, in addition to speaking of "the strong gender preference" which made the Indian status of women among the poorest in Asia "for life expectancy, literacy, education and survival."

"The good thing about Modi - Sen admits - and that I recognized well before, was what he said to the people, we can do things. I admired him then, I admire him now. The problem starts with what he wants to do".

According to the Nobel Laureate, Modi has "he has a wrong understanding of economic development. You can think of development as a process with human beings at the centre, or you can see it as a process with financial and industrial leadership [at the centre]. He definitely belongs to the latter [school of thought]. You need the financial leaders, no doubt, you also need the industrial entrepreneurs. But humanity has to be in the middle. The previous government also failed in that but they were trying to correct a bit with [schemes like] Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, funding for which has just been cut".

This approach makes India "out of tune" than the rest of the continent: "the Asian model of economic development has been to combine the power of the market economy with human beings having the capability to lead a good life. There is some idea that you first become rich, and then raise the level of human development. But every country that has been successful, whether we look at Europe and America, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China or Thailand, has concentrated on raising human capability along with the power of market economy. We pay no attention to that, as if the quality of human beings is not central to human development. If India was bad at that earlier, it’s worse at it now".

From one point of view, Sen was amazed by the direction taken by the administration: "They praised the Gujarat [state where Modi was chief minister for 10 years, ed], which may have had a high rate of growth, but he neglected the human side. Recently The Economist showed that vaccination rates [in Gujarat] are lower than those of Bihar [one of the poorest states in India, ed]. "

What prompted the economist to take a firm stand against the prime minister at the time of the election " was my concern at the Hindutva elements in Modi’s agenda. You see that as an academic very much now, in the interference in the academic administration of the National Book Trust, where A Sethumadhavan has been replaced by an RSS ideologue, or at the Indian Council of Cultural Relations or the Indian Council of Historical Research. There has been that sectarianism [on display]. And despite rhetoric to the contrary, there have been cases of church burning, talk of ghar wapsi. India deserves better than that. In that respect, have I been reassured? I am afraid not.".

In the interview, Amartya Sen said that his first contact with the problem of gender inequality was as a child, at school, where "the first student in the class [hence the title of the book, editor's note] had to be necessarily male, as well as a winner. I thought it was offensive even as a child. "

Later, as a student at the University of Calcutta Presidency and then as a teacher at the University of Jadavpur, he found himself  shocked" I was amazed not just at the inequality but the fact that people knew about it and took it for granted. Secondly, if you drew their attention to it, they would give you lectures about culture. I was told that this was a Western point of view, that Indian women do not think of themselves as individuals, but as an extension of their families. I had an argument at the Delhi School of Economics in the 1960s, and I said this was a form of ultimate denial of a person’s individuality, which is one of the huge possessions we have. That is the way inequality survives, by making underdogs become upholders of the inequality".

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