Amartya Sen, the Indian economist, philosopher, public intellectual and a Nobel laureate has said that multiple identities have helped Bangladesh a lot, and had been helping India too, until "there was a deliberate attempt to undermine it".
He claimed that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, despite being a dynamic and enormously successful politician, does not have the "breadth of vision" about a multireligious and multiethnic India. "Bangladesh has been, in many ways, more successful than India now," he told The New Yorker, citing life expectancy and women's literacy data.
"...in terms of the kind of narrowness of Hindu thinking, it is not reflected in a similar narrowness of Muslim thinking in Bangladesh. I think multiple identities have done a lot for Bangladesh."
Sen further commented that today's India is dominated by a "hard-nosed, hard-Hindutva thinking", where one can now "chastise a Muslim" for eating beef.
Citing the Vedas to say Hinduism did not prohibit beef-eating, Sen said, "Not only from secularism and democracy in post-independence India but also in the understanding of the heritage even of Hindu India".
In an interview with the New Yorker, Sen discussed his memories of a pre-independence India - where he was schooled in the British-Indian reign, his fears and hopes for Indian democracy and how Bangladesh has, in many cases, done better than India after independence.
When asked about his views on Bangladesh and how far the nation has come since independence, Sen replied, "Absolutely. It is very central. And, if you think about that, Bangladesh has been, in many ways, more successful than India now. It used to have a life expectancy lower than that of India. Now it is five years longer. Women's literacy is higher than in India. And, in terms of the kind of narrowness of Hindu thinking, it is not reflected in a similar narrowness of Muslim thinking in Bangladesh. I think multiple identities have done a lot for Bangladesh. It was doing a lot for India, too, until there was a deliberate attempt to undermine it. That had been present earlier. In the nineteen-twenties, there was a strong pro-Hindu movement. Gandhi was shot by an RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Fascist Hindu movement) member, which is the dominant influence on the BJP today. But they were not in office. We didn't feel threatened because they seemed like a fringe. But that fringe gradually became more dominant until the latest election, and they had a massive victory, a victory partially based on political effectiveness."
Talking further about present-day India and influence of BJP, Sen commented that Modi does not have the breadth of vision about India—. "He has been, from his childhood, relating to the RSS and the propaganda of that perspective. On the other hand, as a political leader, he is dynamic and enormously successful. So there was the Modi factor. They also got a massive amount of money. I was quite surprised at how the business community, not just two or three that are often quoted as the big donors, they got support from the bulk of the business community. They had more money and gumption at the time of the election than any other party. They won an election with a massive majority, but, again, you have to look at the issues I have written about, even in the context in America. The electoral system has its flaws. That massive majority he had was based on less than forty per cent of the vote."
India is a country of more than a billion people. Two hundred million of them are Muslim. Two hundred million of them are Dalit, or what used to be called untouchables - Sen's view on a multireligious and multiethnic India. "A hundred million are what used to be called scheduled tribes, and they get the worst deal in India, even worse than the Dalits. Then there is quite a large proportion of the Hindu population that is skeptical. Many of them have been shot. Many of them have been put in prison. In these circumstances, to say that a majority supports him would be difficult. It's a situation where there are many restrictions. The newspapers don't get government ads, and they probably don't get many private ads, either, if the government is against you. As a result, it is very hard to have independent TV or newspapers, because of the difficulties created by the government."