It all started over a remark by Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s poster boy, Narendra Modi. Sen’s words that he would not like to see Modi as India’s prime minister drove BJP leaders to start an all-out attack on the Harvard professor, with party MP Chandan Mitra even saying the “next NDA government must strip him of Bharat Ratna”. The Congress accused the Opposition of “intolerance”, reacting to the tweet.
Against the backdrop of this political uproar, the man at the centre of this controversy said on Thursday: “Mr Chandan Mitra may not know that the Bharat Ratna was given to me by the BJP-led government and was handed to me by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. If Mr Vajpayee wants me to return it, I will certainly return it.”
At a time when the BJP is trying hard to gain wider acceptance for Gujarat Chief Minister Modi, who will lead the party campaign in the next general elections, Sen’s remarks certainly were not welcome. Mitra on Wednesday, in a series of tweets, attacked Sen. “Please Dr Sen, don't peddle your unsolicited comments on India. We now know you as a has-been economist who sells Congress line for a living,” said one.
Kirti Azad said: “Amartya Sen has got the most reputed award.... I don’t think a person who indulges himself in such imaginary accusations must be given such a noble award; they should consider taking it back.”
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Congress’ Shakeel Ahmed, whose tweets on Modi and the Gujarat riots have recently kicked up a storm among political circles, on Thursday tweeted: “Amartya Sen doesn’t want Modi as PM, rates him below Nitish. For this sin, BJP wants to strip his Bharat Ratna. Isn’t it height of intolerance?”
Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari and Union minister Shashi Tharoor also joined the fray. “What kind of a mentality is this? If this is not fascism, then what is?,” Tewari said, Tharoor added: “There is no question of taking the Bharat Ratna back.”
The Janata Dal (United) also criticised the BJP, its former ally. “It’s a crude attempt to stifle intellectual dissent, which is the inherent right of any self-respecting Indian. It represents the new personality driven cult of an intolerant India,” party spokesperson K C Tyagi said in a statement.
To be sure that this not the last that he we have heard about this controversy as elections draw near. As Mitra surmised “Is Sen even a voter ?”