Kolkata: West Bengal should not be a party to the "national degeneration" by choosing to be governed by central leaders instead of the local ones as that would strengthen the concentration of power in the hands of those whose record on economic policy and social justice are "seriously defective", Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said.
Lauding the Mamata Banerjee government for its welfare programmes, especially the ones meant for girls, the beneficial expansion of rural infrastructure and assurance of food security, the renowned economist, however, stressed that issues of corruption in the state have to be addressed.
In an interview with PTI, Sen rued the fact that identity politics has reared its ugly head in Bengal's political landscape and blamed the flag-bearers of Hindutva for sharpening the communal divisions, something that Bengali luminaries – from Rabindranath Tagore to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose – had "worked hard to replace with a peaceful understanding".
"If Bengal ends up being governed by central rulers, not local leaders, it will vastly strengthen the concentration of power in India in the hands of those whose conception of minority rights is extremely limited and whose record on economic policy and social justice seems seriously defective.
"Bengal should not have to be a party to that national degeneration," Sen said, when asked whether the outcome of the Assembly elections will have a bearing on national politics.
He emphasised that Bengal wants unity, not divisions.
“It is not surprising that identity issues will tend to come into electoral propaganda. However, the focus has often been much narrower than the Indian identity or the Bengali identity. It has gone further than Bengali sub-nationalism, he said, adding that, “The fanning of the dangerous flames of communal divisions has not occurred as strongly in Bengal since 1946, as it is happening now,"
Sen, a fierce critic of the Narendra Modi government, further said, "What Mahatma Gandhi did in the 1940s can be undone with a huge cost and sacrifice in Bengal, and this evil negation has unfortunately received much encouragement in this election. Bengal wants unity, not divisions -- as Gandhiji so clearly explained."
Asked to comment on the 'insider-outsider' debate launched by the TMC, Sen said it is "certainly a bad thing" as Bengal has had, historically, been tolerant to outsiders.
"There have never been movements against, say, Tamil or Malayali immigration into Bengal, unlike what happened in, say, Bombay. It is always unfortunate if anti-outsider criticisms have to be used -- it is certainly a bad thing," he said.
"When one of the major political contenders in the electoral battles portrays a part of the 'insider' population of Bengal - in particular, Bengali Muslims - as less deserving of support, while deriving their strength from the support of Hindu activists coming originally from outside Bengal, the dividing lines are hard to be kept pure," he asserted.
The 'outsider-insider' issue demands a fuller political analysis, and it is important to understand that "excluding resident outsiders is always a bad thing, but excluding resident insiders is far more illegitimate", Sen explained.
"The Mamata Banerjee government has taken a number of good initiatives, including the launch of its welfare programmes, especially the ones for girls. Also, the beneficial expansion of rural infrastructure (including much-needed rural roads), and very importantly a workable system of food security are worth appreciation," the Nobel laureate said.
He, however, pointed out that there remained gaps in governance and that has to be taken care of for the overall advancement of the state.
"The fact that Bengali children, despite their families having smaller incomes than, say, Gujarati families, seem to have better health conditions than Gujarati children is a tribute to the governance in Bengal. But there are gaps too that need to be addressed, including corruption check," he insisted.
Referring to the enormous national attention that West Bengal polls have gathered, Sen said, “The interest seems to be arising from rather narrow political concerns, particularly the conviction of the BJP that it would win the state."
Noting that "the BJP-rule has not been particularly good for the country, with its huge neglect of the poor, mistreatment of minorities, messing up of the economy and mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis", Sen said that there are reasons for scrutinising sharply the priorities of the ruling party in India that makes them so single-mindedly concerned about winning the elections in West Bengal.