Twenty years back Prof. Amartya Sen was the only Indian to receive Nobel Prize in Economics. His book Development as Freedom (1999) provided the ballast to formulate Human Development Index and the HDR is now the template to uncover the impact made by countries in terms of education, healthcare and human capability development. Prof. Sen is a bitter man today, as his new book a Hindi version of “An Uncertain Glory” co-authored with development economist Prof. Jean Dreze, gets released.
In a freewheeling interview with Rajdeep Sardesai, he bemoans the fact that “India has taken a quantum jump in the wrong direction since 2014”. In particular, his jibe is directed against majoritarianism, keeping STs away from the discourse of development, Dalits getting whipped for asking a salary hike and indifference to growing inequality in the country. Prof. Jean Dreze, who piloted the MNREGA, the flagship programme to provide 100 days of work to unskilled workers, called the soon to be launched “Ayushman Bharat health scheme” a “hoax”, as the budget provided will be Rs.20/- per person!
Prof. Richard Musgrave called education, particularly primary education, as a merit good, where the benefit to the society is more than benefit to the individual. Even in a classic capitalist society like the USA, primary education is the remit of the government, where 95% students study in public schools. It’s high time that India invests at least 5% in its primary education, as against just 2% which is being spent now in its public school apparatus through its rickety SSA initiatives. Fundamental Rights to education, without any real commitment to quality, has made this social sector most vulnerable. Prof. Sen’s gripe is understandable.
There are two other pernicious trends that bedevil India, viz. blatant promotion of crony capitalism and public support of lumpens by Ministers in the government. One witnessed yesterday how, without due diligence criteria and complete lack of transparency the Jio University by Mukesh Ambani was accorded the status of “Institution of Eminence”. Hitherto fore, such status was accorded to IITs & IIS after long years of proven academic excellence. While the will to set up universities of global repute is welcome through private initiative, the blatant promotion of a corporate sector is disturbing.
It may be recalled that Birla-Ambani Committee (2000) set by the Vajpayee government had publicly batted for handing over university education sector to private sector. What the committee had mooted then, has fructified for Mr. Mukesh Ambani now through political patronization.
The other dismal development has been the way ministers like Jayant Sinha publicly compliment lumpens who lynch a cattle trader like Alimuddin Ansari after they were given bail. It’s baffling how the minister who is educated at Harvard deemed it appropriate to get photographed with these hoodlums. It is a testimony to our democratic spirit that 50 senior retired civil servants like Julio Ribeiro, Harsh Mander and Wajahat Habibullah are part of this protest and have demanded the resignation of the minister, as it stands a wrong message to the public servant entrusted with the protection of citizen’s life and liberty.
India today manifests a major malaise viz. dialogue of the deaf. The public-spirited persons, voices of sanity get a deaf ear from the government, because of its majoritarianism. Gauri Lankesh, the journalist, was killed in broad daylight for speaking against the rabid ideology of the RSS. Television personalities are being threatened with rape and others abused in the social media, with police refusing to intervene and even entertain FIR.
We live in disturbing times, where indifference of the elite is either a manifestation of fear or acquiescence to the divisive majoritarian ideology. Prof. Sen is possibly trying to sensitize us not to be turncoats and exercise our right to responsible dissent.
About the author
The author teaches Constitutional law
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