Instead of crying wolf, look within
The self-appointed "conscience keeper" of our national life has landed back in India in the course of his many peregrinations across the world. Each time there are elections in the country, Prof. Amartya Sen returns to excoriate Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the dispensation he leads. Such repeated prattle keeps his constituency in order back home – his home in the West for which he has done much in the last so many years. When it comes to criticising Modi, Prof. Sen's hideous biases are on full display. The dispassionate approach to an issue or situation that genuine academics must typically show is always missing on such occasions, but because his subject of attack and denigration is a former tea-seller risen to the office of the Prime Minister, such bias and prejudiced-laced attacks are acceptable to a particular class, especially to Sen's followers.
It is another matter that not many really take professor Sen's blabber seriously, at least not those who are sincerely concerned and working to transform India in the light of new aspirations. But nevertheless one needs to expose a few issues.
When he says that a climate of fear permeates the Indian education establishment, Prof. Sen is right – but the truth is on the reverse. It is true that a climate of fear possesses the Indian academia, but it is a climate that has been created, shaped and thrust on us all by those who fashion themselves as either his academic followers or ideological co-partners. This section, with his blessing and with the support of many others like him, has over the years dominated and controlled our educational institutions, our education narrative and has largely determined who is to survive and thrive in it and who is to be marginalised.
It is primarily members from this section, who derive great inspiration from Sen's works and who take him to be their intellectual godfather, who have, for decades, terrorised and victimised young minds who have dared to differ from them in their reading and articulations– political, social and historical. An ambience of mental tyranny, imposed through intellectual terrorism under the veneer of academic liberty and free-thought has targeted and ruined those who have stood for their ideas, for their belief and faith.
It is from this very section that cries demanding India's disintegration have repeatedly arisen and the likes of Prof. Sen, far from castigating such insidious claims, have actually abetted them in the name of academic freedom. They have argued that such cries demonstrate a highly evolved mental state and academic calibre and therefore have to be showered with plaudits. Prof. Sen would not try such experiments in his Ivy League back home, as that would mean the danger of being excommunicated at various levels. The atmosphere of fear thus that is stalking Indian academia, and which is now, against great odds, being gradually dissipated by the fresh convictions of a genuine belief in India, was created, nurtured and protected by Prof. Sen's academic disciples. Let there be no confusion in that. Any attempt at explaining it otherwise is plain chicanery.
Prof. Sen's record of service to India is rather dismal if one were to make an assessment. Despite his ideological colleagues being in power in West Bengal for thirty-four long years in the name of the proletariat, despite his huge almost cult-like influence over them, the state plunged into the nadir when it came to economic development, the health index and over-all industrial and employment ambience. When they were thrown out of power, Prof. Sen's ideological fellow travellers belonging to the communist parties had, between them, left West Bengal in shambles. None of his economic ideas ever worked to turn around the situation.
There are few other records of failure that can match Prof. Sen's when it comes to Visva-Bharati. For one who takes pride in his generational and ancestral association with the tradition of Visva-Bharati and Tagore, Prof. Sen did precious little over the years to try and salvage Visva-Bharati from the morass it had started to sink in. Always seen to be the paragon of wisdom, the possessor of a legendary intellect and a figure with connections and relations to the power-wielders of the country, Prof. Sen, either could not or did not make any effort to salvage the institution. Rather, he lent his weight to the wrong quarters by attempting to stymie any effort at its cleaning up.
Prof Sen's latest round of failure is expressed through his dismal stewardship of the Nalanda University project. In a decade that he was at the helm all that the project achieved was the construction of a boundary wall, some unimaginative physical structures, meetings at exotic locations at the expense of Indian taxpayers, and massive irregularities in academic and administrative appointments. He would also throw tantrums whenever asked to account for the resources spent and results promised. Over the years, Sen emerged as the despot of Nalanda, who would brook no questions and stoutly refuse to be accountable. The Nalanda project and its aborted take-off under him is perhaps Sen's greatest failure. Yet, Prof. Sen always resorts to heaping calumny on others while deftly extricating himself from the heap of his failures.
Instead of indulging in such falsities as he is prone to do, Prof. Sen would do well to reflect on his record and introspect on the trail of incompleteness he has left behind.
(The writer is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. Views expressed are strictly personal.)