In a veiled dig at the Prime Minister Narendra Modi led BJP government at the centre, Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that a dangerous and false binary between freedom and development was emerging in the country’s political discourse which could be a danger to the democratic system.
Addressing the first Prof. S.B. Rangnekar Memorial lecture at his alma mater Panjab University here, he said that it was time to ask if people were losing patience with democracy 70 years after getting independence.
“We need to ask ourselves whether we are losing patience with democracy and turning to more authoritarian alternatives that may well yield superior short-term results but in the long term, will end up destroying our country and all the achievements of the last 70 years.
“Governance is complex. It is messy. It is slow. Its benefits are long term. It requires great patience. Above all, democracy is a system in which people without privilege have a decisive voice in governance. If this is lost, democracy becomes meaningless,” he added.
On the present day scenario, Manmohan Singh said: “A dangerous and false binary is now surfacing in Indian political discourse, which must be firmly rejected. It is that we have to choose between freedom and development. It is not a new binary.
“Dr. Ambedkar once worried that the day may come when people may prefer government for the people to government by and of the people. He saw that as a great danger.
“On this 70th anniversary, we must ensure that we do not fall into the trap of choosing government for the people over government by and of the people,” he said.
Manmohan Singh said democracy is based on a stubborn insistence that every human being should have an equal voice in the formation and operation of arrangements of governance – irrespective of various differences and that the economic liberalization that he was associated with in 1991-1996 and 2004-2014 was, above all, a process of opening up new opportunities for people born without social and economic privilege.
“This was for me the guiding vision behind our economic reforms,” he said, adding that while economic growth remains a high priority, there is now a growing concern that the concomitant commitment to ensuring that disparities and inequality do not grow is weakening. “This can be a serious potential threat to our democracy,” he said.
Noting that equality and freedom were pre-requisite for democracy, he said “freedom is the freedom to question, the freedom to express one’s views, howsoever troubling they may be for others” and without a firm commitment to this, our democracy will not survive.
He said democracy is as inseparable from fraternity as is equality and freedom. “Only a fraternal people can maintain a democracy. And, conversely, only a democratic nation can maintain fraternity.”
“I need not dwell long on the current deep concern that attempts are being made to divide the Indian people on the basis of religion and caste, language and culture. Atrocities against minorities and dalits are increasing. If unchecked, these tendencies can only harm our democracy. As a people, we must strongly reject divisive policies and politics.”
Manmohan Singh said electoral reforms to cleanse elections of money and muscle power were another vital area for securing and strengthening of Indian democracy.