Former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on Wednesday insisted that atrocities against minorities and Dalits were on the rise in the country and warned that such incidents could harm democracy if remained unchecked. Delivering the first S B Rangnekar Memorial lecture at the Panjab University, his alma mater, here, Singh also called for rejection of “divisive policies and politics”.
“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,” he said.
The former prime minister, while addressing the gathering on the topic: The Seventieth Anniversary of our Independence – Strengthening the roots of our Democracy, also said a “dangerous and false binary” of choosing between freedom and development was surfacing in the country’s political discourse and that it must be rejected. He expressed concern over the alleged attempts being made to divide people.
Singh also pointed out that freedom of a country did not mean the freedom of just its government. “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.” “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.
The former prime minister said that democracy would not survive without a firm commitment to this idea of freedom. “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,” Singh said.
“The argument was put to Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our Nation, that good governance and development are better than swaraj (self rule),” he said, adding, that the people of the country firmly rejected the idea advanced by colonial forces.
“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,” he added.
(With PTI inputs)