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At home in Panjab University, former PM Manmohan Singh delivers a critique on Modi govt

The former PM was addressing the first Prof S B Rangnekar Memorial lecture at his alma mater Panjab University in Chandigarh.

chandigarh Updated: Apr 12, 2018 11:49 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Manmohan Singh,Panjab University,Chandigarh
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh(HT File)

Days after the violent agitation by Dalit groups, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singhon Wednesday said atrocities against Dalits and minorities are rising, and called for rejecting divisive politics. Borrowing liberally the words of Babasaheb Dr B R Ambedkar, he warned that “those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy” while expressing concern over the dangerous binary surfacing in the Indian political discourse.

Without mentioning the Modi government even once in his speech, the former Prime Minister delivered a stinging critique of the ruling dispensation at the first memorial oration on “The Seventieth Anniversary of Our Independence _ Strengthening the Roots of our Democracy”, in remembrance of his mentor Dr S B Rangnekar, former head of the economics department at Panjab University, on Wednesday.

Inarguably the most distinguished alumnus of PU after independence, 85-year-old Singh, accompanied by his wife Gursharan Kaur, radiant in yellow, arrived to a standing ovation led by Vice-Chanceller Arun Grover, who hoped that Singh’s speech would prove to be as historic as Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘tryst with destiny’ speech.

Battle not over

Speaking in his measured manner, the former PM started by underlining the importance of “equality, freedom and fraternity” for a robust democracy before proceeding to analyse their health in the present. The marginalised, he said, may have demanded and received concessions by the power of their votes, but their battle is far from over.

Singh, who introduced India to economic liberalisation 25 years ago, seemed concerned about the abolition of Planning Commission—the Modi government has replaced it with Niti Ayog—which he said was designed to develop the economy while controlling inequalities. There is growing concern, he said, that the “commitment to ensuring that disparities and inequalities do not grow is weakening.” In an oblique reference to the demand for abolishing quotas, Singh declared, “In the short-term pro-equality policies may make growth more expensive, but growing inequality is far greater danger to economic well-being.”

Politics of division

Merely a week after PM Modi rolled back I&B ministry’s controversial directive on fake news, the former PM underlined the importance of the freedom to question and express one’s view, “howsoever troubling they may be for others.”

In yet another comment on the BJP government, he 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, caste, language and culture.” Saying that he was a personal witness to the horrors of Partition, Singh said, “hatred should never be allowed to enter our shores ever again.”

At the end, the former PM again cited Babasaheb, saying how he was worried that a day may come when people prefer a government ‘for’ the people against a government ‘by and of’ the people. There was little doubt whom he was alluding to when he concluded by saying, “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.”

As his old colleagues rushed to meet him, a former professor remarked, “He said it all without saying anything.”

First Published: Apr 11, 2018 13:53 IST