Failure to address social ills draws Amartya Sen’s ire (Second Lead)

August 11th, 2008 - 11:35 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Aug 11 (IANS) Nobel laureate Amartya Sen Monday unreservedly criticised the Left and the country’s trade unions for their failure to adequately address social ills like severe deprivation, child hunger, lack of educational opportunities and healthcare for the poor. Delivering the inaugural Prof. Hiren Mukherjee Memorial Parliamentary Lecture in the Central Hall of parliament, Sen said: “There is a lot of immediate agitation to express discontent on new issues such as price rise or the agreement with a foreign country on nuclear issues, but there is little political murmur about the actual living conditions of Indians.”

During the hour-long lecture, Sen also noted that a government in a democratic country had to respond to “ongoing priorities in public criticism and political condemnation”.

“The removal of long-standing deprivations of the disadvantaged people in our country may, in effect, be hampered when the bulk of the social agitation is dominated by new problems that generate immediate and vocal discontent, to the neglect of gigantic older problems of persistent deprivation of human lives, tolerated without much political protest,” Sen maintained.

The audience in the packed Central Hall, which included Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chaterjee and a host of India’s movers and shakers, sat mesmerised as the Nobel laureate minced no words in declaiming his theory on the cause of the country’s social injustices.

“Justice demands that we make a strong effort to identify the overwhelming priorities that have to be confronted with total urgency. We have to ask what should keep us awake at night,” Sen contended.

“Whatever else ‘nyaya’ (justice) may demand - and we can have all sorts of different views on what a perfectly just India would look like - the reasoned humanity of the justice of ‘nyaya’ can hardly fail to demand the urgent removal of these terrible deprivations in human lives,” the economist added.

Before Sen spoke, Manmohan Singh praised the political ethics and principles of the late Hiren Mukherjee, a former parliamentarian and communist.

“Although a severe critic of bourgeois democracy, Professor Mukherjee still upheld the highest traditions of parliamentary democracy during his presence in parliament,” he said.

“Hiren Mukherjee was known to have observed once, and I quote, ‘Politics, fundamentally speaking, calls for passion in its pursuit. A passion in Latin has for its first meaning suffering, which none in true political life should wish to escape’,” the prime minister said.

“The suffering in politics that Hiren Mukherjee drew his inspiration from was a derivative of the commitment to end all suffering. Those of us who are in public life find meaning in it only because we view public office as a means of alleviating the suffering of our people and contributing to their well-being and happiness,” Manmohan Singh added.

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