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January 4, 1999


Sen says Pokhran was bad realpolitik; stresses freedom-economy link

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Nobel laureate Prof Amartya Sen has said that though he understood India's frustrations, the nuclear tests were a realpolitik mistake.

''I don't think I ever thought that it was worth it. There are three things I have to say on that: one is that I fully understand the extent of frustration that exists in India on the international situation on it, the inequality, the smugness of nuclear powers, their inability to see that there are real issues that worry a country."

In a television interview, he said he could also see why India got very irritated whenever it was identified with Pakistan which was one-seventh its size as opposed to China. Whether or not there was worry about China, certainly India as a large country deserved bigger consideration.

''All these frustrations I understand. But I think the response was morally wrong and more importantly in the political context it was a realpolitik mistake.''

On education, Sen said: ''Government after government from independence has ignored elementary education but the opposition has allowed the government to get away with that, why? I think that's where the question of engagement in democracy becomes important.''

Speaking at a felicitation function organised by the University of Delhi, he said for economic development to move to a higher pedestal it was imperative to expand freedom, which he defined as having five elements. Sen recalled with nostalgia his years at the Delhi School of Economics.

He said these ideas were elaborated in one of the two books he was writing entitled Development as Freedom.

The other book is on Social Choice Theory and Freedom which is of a technical nature. Sen said in this work he had argued that freedom should not be restrained by the tyranny of alleged tradition. ''In this work, freedom is used in a broader sense.''

''The five elements of freedom are enabling freedom, political freedom, economic freedom, transparency freedom and protective freedom,'' he said.

The function was attended by a galaxy of intellectuals from various disciplines, which included former finance minister Manmohan Singh, Planning Commission member Montek Singh Ahluwalia and his wife Dr Isher Ahluwalia, a well-known economist and director of the Indian Council of International Economic Relations.

Sen said freedom has an important dimension that is, freedom is viewed as an end. Development is perceived as an expansion of freedom. Freedom is used in the context where development involves substantive opportunities. What makes an individual to participate in social and economic activities includes greater funds for health and education.

Political freedom includes democracy and civil rights.

''Economic freedom includes the role of the market which can be a good promoter of efficiency and equity. People will have greater opportunity to participate in it."

According to Sen, ''transparency freedom involves the right to know about transactions that have been carried out. This is important for preventing corruption and financial irregularities.''

Sen said protection freedom works on the premise that ''no matter how well organised some people are, they end up with their back to the wall.''

''Lack of protective freedom in Russia has led to a dramatic rise in mortality rates. It is necessary to have a balanced basket to promote development as freedom and also as an end.''

In this context, he gave the example of the United States, ''which is a successful economy but has 43 million people without any healthcare. Also, Afro-Americans have a lower life expectancy which is nothing but a failure of protective freedom.''

''In Europe, unemployment rate is high with figures touching 11 per cent in Italy and France. This is nothing but a major failure of protection freedom and, in some ways, that of economic freedom."

Sen said in East Asia, the deceleration of growth rates was not equally divided and was heaped on certain groups of population.

Lack of transaction freedom played an extremely important role. China, Sen said, has had big achievements by way of economic freedom but its lack of political freedom is a failure. Real values of democracy can be tested only when situations go wrong.

Sen said: ''India should learn from different countries of the world but not try to emulate any single country, even if it is China. It must learn from the mistakes of others. There are no rules here on development which need to be followed.''

''However, lessons can be learnt from the development experience of different countries,'' he said.

Sen said many of his works like the choice of technique, collective choice and theory of social welfare were a result of his deliberations at the Delhi School of Economics. He said working with economists like Prof K N Raj was a memorable experience for him. He said students were a great source and any work which one wants to publish should be first exposed to them so that one is not wrong.


Prof Amartya Sen: Specials

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