Offering to return the Bharat Ratna if former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee asked him to, noted economist Amartya Sen on Thursday stuck to his criticism of Narendra Modi while voicing a favourable view of Rahul Gandhi.
“Do I like Rahul Gandhi? Yes, he is from my college,” he said when asked for his opinion about the Congress vice-president in a TV interview. “When I talk to him, I enjoy it … He might be an excellent alternative, but I haven’t decided yet.”
On the Bharat Ratna controversy, he told another channel: “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 Behari Vajpayee. If Mr Vajpayee wants me to return it, I will certainly return it.”
His remark came a day after BJP MP Chandan Mitra tweeted that the next NDA government should strip Sen of the honour for saying he didn’t want Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to be the next PM.
Meanwhile, Jagdish Bhagwati — another noted economist who has long criticised Sen’s work and praised Gujarat’s growth in recent times — also jumped into the fray. “I am not going to vote for Modi. I have no particular affection for him. But I have no particular affection for Rahul Gandhi also,” he said in a TV interview.
He added that Sen, who many say backs Congress’ welfare-based poverty-reduction model, has actually hurt the poor in India by not really supporting the 1991 reforms and now favouring the food security bill which would lead to inflation.
The war of words between the Congress and the BJP over Sen also intensified, with ruling party leader Shakeel Ahmad saying Mitra’s statement was the “height of intolerance” – the same words Modi had used to describe the shutting down of a Mumbai restaurant by Youth Congress workers over the printing of cash memos with an anti-UPA footnote.
The BJP, on its part, tried to distance itself from Mitra’s remark. “His statement is his personal view. It’s his opinion on Sen. Sen also has his opinion. We don’t want to comment on individual views,” senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said.