The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Advani secular message to Sen

New Delhi, July 31: Making a reference to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen sitting nearby, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani today reaffirmed his government’s commitment to India’s secular tradition.

“We do not believe in, nor do we practise, the ideology of exclusion and discrimination. Doing so is completely antithetical to our belief in secularism or our understanding of Indian nationalism…. I wish to say this with some emphasis because many well-intentioned people, including Professor Sen himself sometimes, have raised questions about our secular credentials,” Advani told a Ficci seminar while spelling out his government’s vision of making India a developed nation by 2020.

Sen had spoken out against communal politics and criticised the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the carnage in Gujarat in interviews.

Advani today said an open debate could clear the air. “We are prepared for an open debate on secularism. We are prepared to argue our case with anybody that the Indian concept and ethos of sarva panth samabhaav are most in harmony with the ideals of freedom and development,” he added.

Advani had said in London after the Gujarat riots that they were shameful and not in keeping with India’s tradition of tolerance. Today, Advani again emphasised the point that his government was there to look after the interests of every citizen, irrespective of caste, region, creed or language.

In his speech, Advani spoke of his admiration for Sen. “I have had a high regard for Professor Amartya Sen. Much before I came into government, I used to draw upon the facts and arguments in his books, written before he won the Nobel Prize, to emphasise the urgent need for speedy development of India’s social infrastructure in areas such as education, healthcare, nutrition and housing.” He praised the economist for bringing a “much-needed balance” to the debate on development.

The statements of the deputy Prime Minister came in the presence of several ambassadors and representatives of international agencies. Among those who spoke, besides Sen, were World Bank country director for India Michael Carter and acting head of the European Commission Etienne Claeye.

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