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Argumentative tradition is India’s strength: Amartya Sen

Monday 1 August 2005

Special Correspondent

Public reasoning is essential to democracy and it has to be protected "It would be as absurd to ignore the argumentative tradition in Indian cultures as it would be viewing it through the narrow prism of Hindu religiosity"

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TALKING POINT: West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi (left) in conversation with Nobel Laureate Prof. Amartya Sen in Kolkata on Sunday. _ PHOTO: PTI

KOLKATA: "Silence is a powerful enemy of social justice... the argumentative heritage is an important asset which we will be wise to invoke and utilise," Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said here on Sunday.

Prof. Sen was speaking on "Ancient argument and modern democracy" on the eve of the release of his new book "The argumentative Indian: writings on Indian history, culture and identity" by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on Monday.

"Argumentative tradition can be a strong friend of the underdog," Prof. Sen observed. Since India has a long such tradition it makes it easier to connect public discourse with democracy and "makes it easier for India to be both democratic and secular," he said. "Democratic claims on a political order have to be judged in the context of its protecting public reasoning."

"Public reasoning is essential to democracy. It is intimately connected with public discussion and interactive reasoning - traditions which exist all over the world," the economist said arguing against the theory that democracy was a quintessential western concept. "There are two ways to see democracy - one, the narrow view that interprets democracy in terms of voting and majority rule and the second, more broader view which sees it in terms of public reasoning."

He also had a strong word against Hindutva activists "with their down-sized view of Hinduism, who liked to invoke the Vedas but did not pay attention to the contents."

"It would be as absurd to ignore the argumentative tradition in Indian cultures as it would be viewing it through the narrow prism of Hindu religiosity" as Hindutva activists were doing, Prof. Sen noted. "They take Ram to be divine but in much of the Ramayana Ram is treated as an epic hero."

Prof. Sen said his book dwelt on the long history of the argumentative tradition in the country, its profound contemporary relevance and the connection of the tradition with democracy. "The argumentative tradition has made a profound contribution to many features of modern India..."

Earlier, the West Bengal Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhatacharjee, who said he had read the book remarked: "Amartya has tried to prove that Indian society from the ancient period never succumbed to totalitarianism and despotism and how our society has advanced through dialogue, debate and argument."

See online : The Hindu

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