Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday cautioned about the ‘imminent danger’ India faces from the ‘trinity of social disharmony, economic slump and coronavirus’, saying the blend “may not only rupture the soul of India but also diminish our global standing as an economic and democratic power in the world”.
In an article published in The Hindu, Manmohan Singh made reference to the Delhi violence, attributing “unruly sections of our society, including political class” for stoking communal tensions and “fanning flames for religious intolerance”.
“University campuses, public places and private homes are bearing the brunt of communal outbursts of violence, reminiscent of the dark periods in India’s history. Institutions of law and order have abandoned their dharma to protect citizens. Institutions of justice and the fourth pillar of democracy, the media, have also failed us,” he said.
In the article, Manmohan Singh stated that the “fire of social tensions” threatens to char the soul of the nation and “can only be extinguished by the same people that lit it”.
“It is both futile and puerile to point to past instances of such violence in India’s history to justify the present violence in the country. Every act of sectarian violence is a blemish on Mahatma Gandhi’s India. Just in a matter of few years, India has slid rapidly from being a global showcase of a model of economic development through liberal democratic methods to a strife ridden majoritarian state in economic despair,” he added.
The former prime minister cautioned that such social disturbance at a time when the economy is travailing will only aggravate the economic slowdown. “Investors, industrialists and entrepreneurs are unwilling to undertake new projects and have lost their risk appetite. Social disruptions and communal tensions only compound their fears and risk aversion. Social harmony, the bedrock of economic development, is now under peril.”
On the issue of Coronavirus, which has claimed over 3,000 lives worldwide, Manmohan Singh stated that India too must act promptly and “announce a mission critical team that will be tasked with addressing the issue. There could be some best practices we can adopt from other nations”.
“In such an integrated global economy, the COVID-19 crisis can further slow India’s GDP growth by half to one percentage point, other things being constant. India’s economic growth was already tepid and this external health shock is bound to make things much worse,” he said.
The former prime minister then suggested reforms for the government to take the edge off the crisis. “First, it should focus all energies and efforts on containing the COVID-19 threat and prepare adequately. Two, it should withdraw or amend the Citizenship Act, end the toxic social climate and foster national unity. Three, it should put together a detailed and meticulous fiscal stimulus plan to boost consumption demand and revive the economy,” he said.
calling to mind the 1991 economic crisis, Singh said “we were able to successfully turn this into an opportunity to reinvigorate the economy through drastic reforms”.
“The truth is that the current situation is very grim and morose. The India that we know and cherish is slipping away fast. Wilfully stoked communal tensions, gross economic mismanagement and an external health shock are threatening to derail India’s progress and standing. It is time to confront the harsh reality of the grave risks we face as a nation and address them squarely and sufficiently,” Singh said.