Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen has hit the headlines for his comment on ‘Jai Sri Ram‘ slogan. He said that unlike ‘Maa Durga‘, the ‘Jai Sri Ram’ slogan is not associated with Bengali culture and it is used as a pretext to assault people. He is being criticised for this remark. The BJP has alleged that Amartya Sen is hardly a neutral observer, since his old ties with the Congress and with Jean Dreze, who was involved with UPA’s policymaking by being a founding member of the NAC, are well-documented.
While speaking at a programme in the Jadavpur University in Kolkata Amartya Sen said, “It is ‘Maa Durga’ who is omnipresent in the lives of Bengalis. Jai Sri Ram slogan is not associated with the Bengali culture. Even Ram Navami is gaining popularity nowadays and he had never heard of it before.
He further said, “I asked my four-year-old grandchild ‘who is your favourite deity?’ She replied that it is Maa Durga. Maa Durga is so much more omnipresent in our lives. What I feel is slogans like Jai Sri Ram are used as pretexts to assault people.”
Amartya Sen expressed concern over religious discrimination and said that one cannot negate the political link behind it. As per the position of the people of various religions in the Indian Constitution, there should not be any discrimination. He felt that the current perception is highly driven by caste discrimination and differentiation on religious grounds.
He said if the society reaches a position where a person is being forced to utter something and being assaulted for not abiding, everyone needs to think over the urgent needs of the hour and change the perceptions accordingly.
It is remarkable that last month, a man in Coochbehar district of West Bengal was assaulted for not uttering ‘Jai Sri Ram’. The incident of Tufanganj came to the fore after a video clip was circulated on social media. In the video, a man was being made to do sit-ups holding his ears and forced to say ‘Jai Sri Ram’. The man followed helplessly. Several cases of scuffle between Trinamool Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party workers over chanting of ‘Jai Sri Ram’ have also been reported in the state.
On the other hand, Meghalaya Governor Tathagata Roy has criticised Amartya Sen over his remarks that the ‘Jai Sri Ram’ slogan is being used nowadays to assault people across the country and is not associated with Bengali culture. He asked, “Are Ramrajatala and Serampore in West Bengal or somewhere else? Don’t we say Ram-Ram when we are scared of ghosts? He won a Nobel Prize in economics, he should stick to his subject,” Roy was quoted by a news agency as saying in Kolkata.
Ramrajatala is one of the oldest parts of the city of Howrah. It is a part of the area covered by Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA). The name of the area comes from the presence of a temple dedicated to Lord Rama and three months long worship is undertaken by the people of the locality every year at the temple. This tradition of worship of Lord Rama has continued for about 3 centuries. Ayodhyaram Choudhury, the zamindar started Rama puja first time in this area. Similarly, Serampore (also called Srirampur) is a city of Hooghly district. There was a very famous ‘Ram-Seeta’ temple. So, it is wrong to say that Ram is not associated with Bengali culture. Such comment should be avoided.
Bharatiya Janata Party West Bengal unit president Dilip Ghosh also hit back at Amartya Sen. He said that probably Amartya Sen does not know Bengal. Speaking at a BJP membership drive event, Dilip Ghosh countered Sen and said the Nobel laureate was unaware that people were being assaulted or even killed in the state for chanting the slogan. He said, “In Bengal, if someone says Jai Sri Ram he is being murdered. India is progressing with a new image, while Bengal is walking backwards. There is no democracy here. People do not have the right to speak their mind. Big intellectuals are seeing terror in the chant of Jai Sri Ram. They are saying people are lynched for not chanting Jai Sri Ram.” The BJP state unit president said that Sen was unaware of the ground realities in the state. He stayed abroad and he should stay there. “Jai Sri Ram is chanted in every village, now entire Bengal says it. At the same time, the BJP accused goons of the TMC of assaulting a party supporter in Nadia district allegedly for saying Jai Sri Ram.
According to the BJP, Amartya Sen is an eminent economist and should not play into the hands of a discredited and corrupt regime and become its spokesperson. He should have an independent view and recognise the immense long-term interests of India’s poor — they will be the biggest beneficiaries of a truly investment-led growth-oriented government led by an honest and decisive leader. A leader like Narendra Modi. The party asked, “Is Sen opposed to good governance and growth that the Gujarat model is synonymous with? Is he opposed to zero tolerance for corruption, empowerment over entitlement, minimum government and maximum governance, skill development, training teachers and attracting entrepreneurs?”
Meanwhile, leaders of the ruling Trinamool Congress extended their support to Sen. Senior party leader Purnendu Bose said, “We stand by what Amarya Sen has said.” State Urban Development minister Firhad Hakim said that Ghosh was new to Bengal politics. He is not aware of Bengal’s culture. If tomorrow Dilip Ghosh says Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore did not know Bengal, or that Mother Teresa did not know Kolkata, will the people believe him?