Former prime minister Manmohan Singh stressed on Friday that no innovation in public policy “can succeed without a reasonable consensus about it” and India has “opted for a democratic path for ourselves”. He said “there is no room for authoritarian impositions from above”, adding that in the country today the trust between the government and the business leadership “stands eroded”.
The responsibility of the political leadership, Singh said, is to “temper the harshness of change, especially for the more vulnerable sections of our society”, which will only be acceptable “as a social policy when it is seen as fair and equitable”. The country’s social compact, he added, must be seen as just and even-handed.
“It is vital to prepare all stakeholders for the coming change; because changes produce some disruption, some pain, and considerable discomfort,” Singh said at the Hindu BusinessLine Changemaker Awards 2019, where he was the chief guest.
“It is the task of the statesman” he said, “ to take citizens into confidence and explain to them the need for change” and it is “never easy to make citizens accept deprivation, even temporary.”
“The change-maker must have faith,” Singh said, recalling his famous Budget speech from 1991 where he had quoted Victor Hugo saying “no power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.”
This part of the speech is often quoted, Singh said but not the next few sentences, which he repeated: “… emergence of India as a major economic power in the world happens to be one such idea. Let the whole world hear it loud and clear. India is now wide awake. We shall prevail. We shall overcome.”
Singh said his government in 1991 could change “a few things” because “some of us had faith in India, and Indian people”, which was perhaps “a faith in our old fashioned nationalism”. He said they believed in the “ability of the Indian people to absorb and appreciate change”.
The economic reforms started the process of change, “a process that had been carried on by successive governments,” Singh said. “A Prime Minister though has a different and wider responsibility than does a Finance Minister as he or she has to factor in political and social implications,” he added.
“Since ancient days India has experienced a collective strength and confidence “when we remained alive to the need for change and progressed and prospered whenever the society was able to recognise and promote change, and it moved forward when the society and the administration facilitated the work of the potential change-makers,” the former PM stated.
Whenever the Indian society has “faltered” Singh said it was because “our social order had become stagnant, and we became too comfortable with status quo and, consequently, discouraged change, innovation, invention and discovery”. He added that societies grow and progress when creativity is encouraged to challenge the status quo.
“Of late,” he said, “many negative perceptions have been manufactured about business leaders; the business community, big and small, has been made to feel the wrath of coercive agencies” building a “hostile narrative”.
This, the former PM stated, will not only sap the confidence “of our own business leaders it will also create doubts in the mind of foreign governments and business leaders”.