What made you think Bengalis don't prefer BJP, Prof Sen?

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The current controversy over Nobel laureate Amartya Sen's anti-Modi remarks is very unfortunate. Nowadays, one sees how academics and scholars are also being dragged into political controversies, whether it is Ashish Nandy or Amartya Sen.

These controversies become even more intense since the scholars do not have a mind and language that feed the common audience. Their observations and analysis made in a distinct ambience do not appeal to the lay man and there remains a gap between what is being said and what is being perceived.


Professor Sen's mistake was that he tried to make a blatant distinction at a time when the country is witnessing a deep divide over Narendra Modi, something which has even transcended national borders. This was not a perfect time to express his observations and end up being labelled as something equivalent to an anti-national. A Nobel Prize winner doesn't deserve such treatment.

But at the same time, the professor shouldn't have made explicit political statements. He for example, said most Bengalis don't vote for the BJP and he is no exception either or that a man who wishes to be PM of a secular country cannot generate fear among the minority. He also blamed the Congress on issues like the Punjab riots what was the need for the eminent economist to play a balancing game?

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet blockquote"><p>Most Bengalis don't vote for the BJP; I am not an exception either! <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23AmartyaSen&src=hash">#AmartyaSen</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23IdeaExchange&src=hash">#IdeaExchange</a></p>— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) <a href="https://twitter.com/IndianExpress/statuses/360369826063069184">July 25, 2013</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

The first statement doesn't look a sacrosanct one. What did Prof Sen mean by "most Bengalis don't vote for the BJP"? I think there is no divine law that Bengalis do not like or will not like to vote for the BJP ever. Such a statement by the Nobel laureate, besides fuelling an anti-BJP controversy, also projected the political behaviour of the Bengalis in a misleading way.

It is true that the BJP has little or presence in West Bengal traditionally. But that doesn't imply that the Bengalis are by nature not in favour of the saffron politics. It is because the Bengali society was dominated by a Leftist political culture for a long period of time that it has never tasted the waters of right-wing politics.

But having said that, one can be very assured that this Leftist stronghold in the state has been smashed beyond repair and with the replacing hotchpotch force itself in a shambles, there is no reason to believe that right-wing elements will not rise in the state at any point of time.

A recent poll survey conducted by a news channel along with a premier newspaper of the country showed that the BJP's vote-share in West Bengal is set to rise by around six per cent in the next Lok Sabha polls (from 6% to 12%). The traditional big players in the state were left worried after the saffron party bagged around 10 per cent of the vote share in the bypoll in the seat after Congress's Pranab Mukherjee went on to become the President of India.

The pseudo-secular card of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress isn't helping Professor Sen's theory either. The party has been shamelessly appeasing the minorities ever since it came to power and with little success in breaking the shackles that were imposed by the once-powerful Left over the last three decades and steer the hapless state towards development, one feels that the rise of a right-wing force as a backlash won't remain elusive as it may seem.

With the growing dissatisfaction with Banerjee and the Left almost disappearing from one of its strong bastion, it is the two national parties that have the biggest opportunity to grow in the state.

Professor Sen had once said that the Left politics of today disappoints him. Then why does he assume that his fellow Bengalis are disappointed either? And with Mamata 'bad', the Left 'worse' and the Congress divided into several factions, what is the choice (or no choice) left for the state and its people?

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