Sagarika Ghose & Amartya Sen: The Interview That Wasn’t

Sagarika Ghose’s recent interview of Prof Amartya Sen on Times of India was yet another example of how Indian media’s incompetence has become a bigger risk to the health of Indians than cholesterol. The sense of acute frustration and rage one experiences while witnessing Sagarika Ghose treating Prof Amartya Sen with kid gloves is enough to initiate multiple cases of spontaneous human combustion.

The only coping mechanism one can employ to deal with such acute exasperation is to rely on imagination. This is exactly what I have done here by dreaming of a parallel universe where the same interview happens. But there instead of playing the role of the patron saint of victimhood, Amartya Sen comes to the interview as a forthright individual eager to help Sagarika out with her questions. One could argue that why doesn’t instead Sagarika Ghose ask probing questions in this parallel universe scenario. My answer is that even imagination needs to work within some realistic boundaries.

So let’s see how the interview would have gone. The same questions from the original interview have been repeated.

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What explains AAP’s big win in Delhi?

Interesting start Sagarika! I thought you are going to grill me about my chancellorship of Nalanda University. Perhaps you want to first ask me about things which I am comfortable with so that you can get some false sense of complacency going and then Wham! I like that. No wonder you are one of India’s most feared journalist.

Coming back to your question, I am not a political commentator so it is difficult to correctly theorize on why AAP won so big but it is evident that Kejriwal is a fantastic communicator. He had a better message than the BJP, he worked harder than the BJP and he communicated better than the BJP.

There’s disappointment with Modi’s government?

Sagarika, please do not put words in my mouth. And why are you presuming there is disappointment with the Modi Government? In the last five state elections, BJP has been trounced in a staggering one of them. So I don’t think there is enough evidence to suggest people are disappointed.

Is pro-poor, Left politics re-emerging?

No questions on Nalanda yet? Great! I am really enjoying this. But I will still answer your question.

Being an economist, I do not have the luxury which you journalists have of drawing conclusions based on a ridiculous sample size of events. If Left politics is re-emerging then why is Prakash Karat seen most of the time wandering about in Palika Bazar? I would like to reiterate that please do not come to such major conclusions based on one election in one city. Tomorrow if BSP wins a by-poll in UP, will you say that people have now begun to support the building of statues?

Has it brought back subsidy politics?

Nothing on Nalanda yet? Ok. This has got to be my lucky day.

Can I skip answering this question because you are continuing to assume that everything has changed because AAP has won in Delhi? In real life where the rest of us exist and operate, we form opinions only after we have sufficient evidence. If I comment on the consequences of the AAP victory so early then there is a good chance I may look like an idiot later. I know that is not a risk you face anymore but professionals like me need to be careful with what we say and why we say it.

Your assessment of Modi’s government 

It depends on their assessment of my performance as the Nalanda Chancellor. Hahaha…

I apologize for such a frivolous answer. It was just a desperate attempt by me to bring you back to the topic which is of relevance today. But something tells it is not going to work.

You can’t see yourself voting for BJP?

Didn’t I just request you not to put words in my mouth? A cynical reader may assume by now that you are desperately trying to make me criticize the government and the prime minister. Please don’t let people start feeling that you have an axe to grind with the current regime. I often partner with the Indian Government in an official capacity and it would be terribly unprofessional of me to publicly discuss my private opinions on political parties.

Are you worried about the minorities?

Ok. How is this question relevant AT ALL? Even if you had asked me whether I am worried about the Pakistan cricket’s team’s performance or whether MSG should have a sequel, it would have been more relevant to what is happening today.

Sagarika, it is not my place to advise but you may want to be more prudent with your line of questioning. Some misguided Internet Hindus may use these interviews to accuse you of trying to forcefully create a false narrative that minorities are currently under threat. It will be like the time when without rhyme or reason, you said the media is being muzzled. Right on cue, New York Times soon followed with an editorial about how the media is under threat from a Modi administration. If you insist on continuing to play such games, please do so but I would like to excuse myself from the role of being a pawn in it.

Was the government behind your quitting as Nalanda University VC?

Finally!! A question on Nalanda!

A journalist right out of journalism school would have asked why did I quit but you jumped to the assumption that it could be the government. Perhaps you want to save time so that you can ask important questions like where did the 2700 crore investment go or why do we see no infrastructure on the ground at Rajgir or why are there only fifteen students or why do the existing buildings look so shabby?

To answer your question, the Government has not fired me. I resigned because the Government has not taken a decision yet to extend my tenure. And that could possibly be because they are waiting for some paper work from the Nalanda Board.

They wanted you out?

Well, there is no official statement on that and if I said yes, I will fail to back it with evidence. So the right answer is I do not know whether they want me out. And I am surprised you didn’t ask any of the important questions even after I helped out by spelling out each and every one of them. At least ask me about why President Kalam dropped out the Nalanda project or the concerns raised by the Finance Ministry about how the 2700 crore was spent? You seem to be skirting the main issues in the manner I try to avoid any Nalanda related event at Rajgir.

Are you deeply pained?

Well, no one likes to lose such a wonderful salary. So that’s a little painful.

I am now convinced that you have no intention of asking absolutely anything of relevance. May be I can redirect your question to the Indian public because if there is anyone who might be pained it’s the Indian public. If you ask whether the Indian people are deeply pained, I would say yes. They are deeply disappointed that so much money and so much hope was entrusted on one of the most revered sons of India and all they got in return was a puny two-storied shabby building and a lot of self-righteous drama on prime time TV.  An apt metaphor would be those tacky T-Shirts saying “My girlfriend went to New York and All I got is this T-Shirt” except here the Indian public paid 2700 crore for me to come to Nalanda and there is less than a T-Shirt to show in the end.

Is academic freedom in danger?

You have not phrased your question accurately. It is not academic freedom which is in danger. It’s the freedom to take public funds and the Indian Government for granted that is in danger. And after 67 years of liberal elites attending government funded conferences in five star hotels and pontificating on what is good for the Indian poor, may be its time to bring some accountability into the picture. May be its time to ignore what prizes or awards people like me have won in the past & instead hold me responsible for all the promises I made to revitalize India’s future.

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