New Delhi: Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has refused to budge from his views on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. He told CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose that he hadn't lost the right to free speech following the Bharat Ratna award. BJP MP Chandan Mitra had demanded Sen be stripped off India's highest civilian honour.
However, Sen said, "By getting the Bharat Ratna, I don't lose my right as an Indian citizen to speak on the subject." "It's not about the BJP, it's not a point about Advani or Jaswant Singh. It's a point about Modi and did I think it was my duty to stand up for minorities, quietness of mind and peace of mind? Yes. And do I think I have a right to do that uncompromised by Bharat Ratna? Yes," Sen added.
Following is an extract from the interview:
Sagarika Ghose: Professor Sen, thanks so much for joining us. What a lot of sound and fury there has been after that interview that you and I did on that Monday morning in Delhi.
Amartya Sen: Yes I've heard about the commotion.
Sagarika Ghose: I want to ask you about the calls for your Bharat Ratna to be taken away. Chandan Mitra of the BJP and other BJP MPs as well are saying that you should make amends to the statements you made about Modi. How do you react to the calls for your Bharat Ratna to be taken from you?
Amartya Sen: Well there are three things to say. One, will I be very sad if the Bharat Ratna is stripped from me and the answer is yes. That's not because of the Ratna bit but the Bharat bit, as someone who remains exclusively an Indian citizen. It would be saddening, very saddening. Second, I also have enough faith in the nation not to believe that this is likely to happen. I don't think this is the kind of a thing Indians tend to do and it's unlikely to happen in my judgement. So am I really scared? I don't think so, even though if it had happened, I'd be very depressed.
And do I regret what I said? Not at all. There are two issues. One, I think it's my right to say. By getting the Bharat Ratna, I don't lose my right as an Indian citizen to speak on the subject. It's not about the BJP, it's not a point about Advani or Jaswant Singh. It's a point about Modi and did I think it was my duty to stand up for minorities, quietness of mind and peace of mind? Yes. And do I think I have a right to do that, uncompromised by Bharat Ratna? Yes.
Sagarika Ghose: Just to come back to the Bharat Ratna point. You said earlier today that you believe that if Atal Bihari Vajpayee asked you to return the Bharat Ratna, you would do so.
Amartya Sen: No, I didn't quite do so. You know the fact really is that I'm being fired questions at a pace that they would make a machine gun blast in terms of the speed. And I had to give an immediate answer in a way that many of us had not planned. You know, what I said was that if my Bharat Ratna was given by Vajpayee and if I had to consider returning it, the question has to come from him. I made a mistake there because actually the Bharat Ratna was given by the President.
The BJP, meanwhile, has distanced itself from Chandan Mitra and all through Thursday, the party tried to downplay the controversy. Mitra in a series of tweets launched a tirade of sorts on Sen seeking the much acclaimed economist be stripped of Bharat Ratna if NDA comes to power after the general election. This came after Amartya Sen, in an interview to CNN-IBN said that Modi shouldn't be the Prime Minister.
All through the day, Mitra remained elusive, refusing to clarify on his statement. But the Congress was quick to pick the issue up as it accused BJP of intolerence towards any form of criticism. All through the day, the BJP officially tried to downplay the controversy, but by late afternoon was forced to come out with a clarification.
Finally, it was party spokesperson Nirmala Seetharaman, currently on a tour of Tamil Nadu, who tweeted the official party position on the issue, with the BJP completely distancing itself from Chandan Mitra's take on the issue. The clarification came, but the damage probably had already been done.