New Delhi: Nobel laureate Amartya Sen says he does not regret his controversial statement that he would not like to see Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as India's Prime Minster.
Talking exclusively to NDTV, he also emphasised that this was not an endorsement of the Congress-led UPA government.
The world-renowned economist said the demand made by some angry BJP MPs that his Bharat Ratna, conferred by the party's Atal Bihari Vajpayee 14 years ago, be taken back for his anti-Modi remark, "surprised and disappointed" him.
"Just as I have a right to say that as an Indian citizen, the kind of Prime Minister I have, I would like to see someone who would not generate worry and concern on part of large sections of the community, the minorities. I think Chandan Mitra has the right to say that the Bharat Ratna awarded to me should be rightly stripped. Whether he can do it or not is not quite clear," Mr Sen said. (Read: Highlights of what Mr Sen told NDTV)
Mr Mitra, a Rajya Sabha MP and journalist, had tweeted, "Amartya Sen says he doesn't want Modi to be India's PM. Is Sen even a voter in India? Next NDA government must strip him of Bharat Ratna." Other BJP leaders like Kirti Azad endorsed that view.
Mr Sen, who had questioned Mr Modi's secular credentials while making his PM remark, reiterated that he believed the issue of the Gujarat communal riots of 2002, in which hundreds of Muslims were killed under Mr Modi's watch, "has not gone away."
He said, "Doing things that target a particular community which is defined by their birth, is wrong. You cannot justify that...We have a strong culture of tolerance. We are democratic and allow small minorities to flourish."
"I have also written about the 1984 riots. It's a crying shame that those guilty have not been brought to trial," Mr Sen added.
The economist, who lives in the US, said he had no opinion yet on who he would like to see as India's PM and would need more political debate to decide; Congress number 2 Rahul Gandhi, he said, "might be an excellent alternative, but I haven't decided yet."
"Do I like Rahul Gandhi? Yes...He is from my college. When I talk to him, I enjoy it. As a believer in democracy and as a proud citizen, we don't think of voting for a PM that way," Mr Sen said.
Slammed by the Congress and others, the BJP has officially disowned Mr Mitra's statement. BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted, "Bharat Ratna debate -unfortunate. BJP is not a part of it.Views expressed by member/s can only be construed as their personal opinion."