To be reductionist about it, Sen tends to prefer a more welfarist, rights-based approach and so is championed by those on the Left (even though the Bharatiya Janata Party gave him the Bharat Ratna) while Bhagwati prefers a more growth-focused, reforms-based path that the Right has of late taken to. When the spat was at its loudest, TV channels reported on the matter in an even more simplistic manner: Sen represents the Congress and Bhagwati, the BJP (especially prime minister Narendra Modi). And never the twain shall meet.
Turns out though, that there is something that the two agree on (aside from some of their economics, but never mind that). Both of India’s most noted economists, who have spent decades trying to figure out how the country should progress, believe that Hindutva is a distraction bordering on being dangerous for the country.
Sen’s views on this are not new. He’s spoken for some time about how communal elements are the real danger of a Modi prime ministership. In December, he also said that his biggest concern was the new government’s approach to pluralism. “To me the biggest issue is that the central government hasn’t looked into is the issue of social cohesion and culture,” Sen told the Indian Express. “It is such a central recognition throughout Indian history.”
Surprisingly, for those who might have bought into the simple Sen as Left and Bhagwati as Right narrative though, the latter this week echoed these views. Speaking to the Times of India on Wednesday, he said that the growing social unrest is a serious concern for the country. When asked whether he is worried about the noise that Hindutva hardliners have been making, Bhagwati said, “Yes I am. It's in contradiction to what Hinduism stands for. They're wrong in doing it. And what it's doing is giving a handle to people who want to undermine the PM on his economic agenda which is to be doing something important for the poor. What worries me is his agenda and approach could be undermined by growing discontent, social disharmony.”
Delivering the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture, the noted economist also called on the the prime minister to speak out against Hindutva hardliners who were “corroding” the economic and social environment. “I think the PM must be saying more things to hold these people back from capturing the imagination and (instilling) possible fear among large number of people. That can’t be good for his development agenda and that is where a little push would be helpful,” he said. “So it is this corrosive nature of things that these RSS guys are doing that worries me… In the short run, I don’t think they would do much damage, but in the medium term everyone gets fed up.”
Adding that he is "politically left of centre," Bhagwati also said that the prime minister got carried away when he suggested that Hindu god Ganesha's elephant head was the result of plastic surgery, but insisted that Modi would end up being more swayed by his economic ideas rather than the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
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