Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday said that atrocities against Dalits and minority communities were increasing at an alarming rate in the country, adding that such incidents can harm the democracy of the country.
Singh was delivering the first SB Rangnekar Memorial Lecture at the Punjab University in Chandigarh on the topic ‘The Seventieth Anniversary of our Independence- Strengthening the roots of our Democracy.”
He added that a ‘dangerous and false binary’ of choosing between development and freedom was mingling with the country’s politics and said that this must be stopped.
He added his concern over the repeated attempts of the country’s alleged division.
Singh said, “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.”
Singh added that the country’s freedom did not just mean the freedom of the government but that of every Indian citizen. He said, “It is the freedom of people, which, in turn is not the freedom only of its privileged and powerful, but the freedom of every Indian.”
He added, “Freedom is, the freedom to question, the freedom to express one's views, howsoever troubling they may be for others. The only constraint to freedom must be the freedom of others. In other words, the freedom of one person or a group should not be used to constrain the freedom of other individuals or groups.”
He said democracy will not survive without a firm commitment for the idea of freedom. He cited BR Ambedkar’s idea of reassertion of commitment to maintain India’s freedom and independence.
Singh said, “We must preserve strategic autonomy in decision-making processes and resist the temptation of rich rewards gained by becoming a tool in the great games of big powers in the pursuit of their imperial ambitions. We need to rebuild our commitment to maintaining India's freedom and Independence, based on individual freedom and independence of every Indian citizen.”
The former prime minister stressed that one should never compromise on freedom as it is our birth right. He said, “The argument was put to Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our Nation, that good governance and development are better than swaraj (self rule). It (freedom) is, as our founding fathers proclaimed early in our freedom struggle, 'our birth right' on which we shall never compromise. Growth, wealth and development are fruits of democracy, not substitutes.”
Once India’s Finance Minister, Singh also stressed over the threat to our economic inequality and said, “While economic growth remains a high priority for the country, 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.”
Singh added, “What is required is stronger social and political reawakening to the principle of equality - social, economic and political - for the sake of equality and as a mark of our commitment to democracy. In the short term, pro-equality policies may make growth more expensive, but the growing inequality is, in the long term, a far greater danger to economic well being and sustained growth.”