India's journey to a multi-party democracy has been marked with "stresses and strains" but it has worked, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday while making a strong case for a meaningful voice for women in political and developmental processes.
"India's own tryst with democracy drew its inspiration from our freedom struggle. And so, at a time when most developing countries opted for authoritarian models of government, India chose to be a multi-party democracy," the prime minister said in his address at the Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of Commonwealth Countries (CSPOC) in New Delhi.
"This journey has not always been smooth. There have been stresses and strains. This is inevitable in a diverse and plural society that India is. Despite these often noisy political contestations, India has remained as a functioning multi-party democracy. Democracy has strengthened our polity and our institutions."
The five-day conference, attended by 50 speakers and presiding officers from 42 parliaments in the Commonwealth, began Monday with a meeting headed by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.
Manmohan Singh said India's experiment in trying to achieve economic salvation within the framework of a pluralistic, democratic polity that respects individual freedom and the rule of law had profound implications for the world.
"If our way of governing can succeed and if we are able to banish poverty from our land in a generation, it will convincingly answer the question of whether democracy can sustain rapid development and growth."
The prime minister also pointed out that it was imperative that women be given a more significant voice in political processes.
"The representative bodies (in India) should think of ways to marshal the energy and the impatience of the young and the vast latent capabilities of our women," he said.
Hailing Meira Kumar for her "iron fist beneath a velvet voice", the prime minister said the task of running parliament smoothly and giving due voice to all sections had become complex and challenging.
"I am pleased that the speaker facing these challenges in our own parliament is a very distinguished woman, Meira Kumar, who sheathes the proverbial iron fist beneath a velvet voice.
"In India, I am proud to say that, with reservation in our local bodies, we have today more than a million elected representatives who are women. They are deepening our democracy and enriching our development processes."