There are prevailing tensions in the polity and challenges which, if not addressed, can lead to “disastrous” consequences, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said today. Speaking at the launch of a book, titled ‘Hope in a challenged democracy-An Indian narrative’, authored by former Union minister Ashwani Kumar, Singh stressed the need to remain alert by not giving up hope despite the tensions.
Vice president Hamid Ansari, who was also present on the occasion, said in a country like India and given its inherent contradictions emanating from diversities and inequalities, the operation of a democratic polity was always going to be “challenged”.
“There are today tensions in the polity. There are challenges which need to be addressed and if not addressed they can have disastrous consequences,” Singh said. Stressing that one has to remain alert, Singh said that Kumar’s book has reminded of those challenges which “we as a nation collectively face and must face”. “There are tensions but one cannot give up hope,” he said.
Singh said that he was reminded of an example where Mao Zedong was asked by a western delegation of what he thought about the French Revolution, to which he answered that it was too early to pronounce.
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Ansari said that in a country like India and given its inherent contradictions emanating from diversities and inequalities, the operation of a democratic polity was always going to be “challenged”. “In our country and given the inherent contradictions emanating from diversities and inequalities, the operation of a democratic polity was always going to be challenged.
“This is what Ambedkar meant when he talked on November 29, 1949 about the ‘life of contradictions’ and of his apprehension about inequality blowing up the structure of political democracy,” Ansari said.
He noted that despite the comprehensiveness of Part III (Fundamental Rights), Part IV (Directive Principles) and Part IVA (Fundamental Duties) of the Constitution and the immensity of changes since 1950, Ambedkar’s apprehensions retain an element of validity.
“Social justice, equality and dignity of the individual have yet to be attained in sufficient measure and this is reflected graphically in the placement we receive in UNDP’s Human Development Index for 2015 – 130 out of 188 countries surveyed,” he said.
The Vice president said that a recent report by wealth research firm New World Wealth ranked India as the 12th most inequitable economy in the world, with almost half of India’s total wealth in the hands of the richest one per cent, while the top 10 per cent controlled about 74 per cent of it. The poorest 30 per cent, meanwhile, had just 1.4 per cent of the total wealth, he said.
Quoting sociologist T K Oommen where the latter said ‘independent India’s penchant for passing legislations remains proverbial but its incorrigible incapacity to implement them is abysmal’, Ansari said, “This, then, is the challenge to Indian democracy. The corrective lies in the hope that it would emanate from within its framework. The latter necessitates commitment to the principles as well as the process.”
It is a truism that all democracies contain within them tensions between societal constraints and individual liberties, dictates of state security and citizen’s freedom, as well as between the divergent political, social and economic approaches, the vice president said.
“The challenge at all times is to mould the tensions in such a manner as to retain the focus on the proclaimed objectives of the society concerned,” he said.
Ansari noted that the principal themes of the book, (in the author’s own word) are firstly on the ‘incestuous relationship between wealth and power’ and its impact on the credibility and moral authority of the government, and secondly on what he describes as ‘an insufferable atmosphere of intolerance’. “It is no exaggeration to say that these are reflective of a wider, developing, concern amongst many citizens,” he said.