• Celebrating the success of Indian democracy as a befitting reply by the common people of the country to the world giving it no chance 70 years ago, Dr. Manmohan Singh on Wednesday made an impassioned appeal for ensuring equality for the traditionally deprived sections of the society for the Indian democracy to survive and thrive. Steering clear of direct references to the ruling political dispensation, which his party, the Congress, has been steadfastly manoeuvring to pull down, the noted economist and former Prime Minister, nevertheless warned that efforts being made to turn from democracy to “more authoritarian alternatives” may end up “destroying our country” and all the achievements of the last seventy years.

Delivering the 1st Prof. S.B. Rangnekar Memorial Oration in memory of his onetime teacher and mentor in his alma mater, the Panjab University, in Chandigarh, on the subject “The Seventieth Anniversary of our Independence - Strengthening the Roots of Our Democracy”, Dr. Manmohan Singh 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 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.”

 

Photos By : Life In Chandigarh

Another growing concern, he spelled out, was that while economic growth remained a high priority for the country, “the concomitant commitment to ensuring that disparities and inequality do not grow is weakening.  This can be a serious potential threat to our democracy. Economists and development experts worldwide, including in India, are today emphasizing the grave danger to sustained growth from growing inequality. They point out that economic inequality and exclusion are threats not only to economic and social wellbeing, but also to a cohesive functioning of the polity as a whole.”

Suggesting a roadmap for the future, Dr. Manmohan Singh said, “It is vitally important for us in India to maintain strong focus on containing the growth of economic inequality, and work actively to reduce it. A range of economic and social policy measures are available to us.  What is required is stronger social and political reawakening to the principle of equality – social, economic and political – for the sake of equality and as a mark of our commitment to democracy.  In the short term, pro-equality policies may make growth more expensive, but the growing inequality is, in the long term, a far greater danger to economic well being and sustained growth.”

Falling back profusely on Dr B.R. Ambedkar and Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru during the course of his lecture, the former Prime Minister recounted Ambedkar, while addressing the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, expressing his concerns on the challenge of transforming India into a society based on equality, and quoted Ambedkar “[In our Republic], in politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In Politics we will be recognizing the principle of one-man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one-man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life?  If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.  We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.”

Dr. Manmohan Singh said then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru had also warned in 1952 in one of his letters to his Chief Ministers, and he quoted “If poverty and low standards continue then democracy for all its fine institutions and ideals, ceases to be a liberating force.” 

Dwelling on electoral reforms, while acknowledging that the country should be proud of its democratic electoral system, which has opened up opportunities for the aam aadmi without any social, economic or political privilege whatsoever by birth to occupy the highest positions of power, Dr. Manmohan Singh said steps needed to be taken urgently to cleanse elections of money and muscle power.

Expressing optimism over the future of India as a nation and its democracy, Dr Manmohan Singh asked the people to imbibe Pandit Nehru’s words : “I hope that we shall look into the future with a stout heart and with confidence in ourselves”. 

Earlier beginning his lecture, Dr Manmohan Singh profusely acknowledged the contribution made by Dr. S.B. Rangnekar, who along with Dr. K.K. Dewett, was the founder of the Department of Economics of the Panjab University after the partition of India in 1947, for shaping his career path as an economist.  

“The Department of Economics in those days was located at Hoshiarpur along with many other university departments. I joined the Department of Economics as an M.A. student in 1952.  This was the first year of adoption of the new M.A. syllabus in whose preparation Dr. Rangnekar played pioneering role.  He was a great teacher who inspired me to go to Cambridge after my M.A. examination.  On return from Cambridge, I joined the Department of Economics as a Senior Lecturer. Soon thereafter the Department of Economics moved to Chandigarh and I had the privilege of working in the department with Dr. Rangnekar as its Head.  Dr. Rangnekar and his wife treated me and my wife as a member of their family.  That was the happiest period of my life and I recall it with gratitude to Rangnekars.  

After the oration lecture, Dr. Manmohan Singh visited the Department of Economics, where he now holds the Jawaharlal Nehru Chair. He interacted with the faculty, including current chairperson Dr. Upinder Sawhney, and students of the department and also obliged them by signing a framed poster carrying his picture and his quote.

Thereafter, he visited Guru Teg Bahadur Hall where facilities are to be created for housing the 3500 odd books to be donated by him from his personal library for the benefit of students.

Dr Manmohan Singh alongwith his wife Gursharan Kaur are also learnt to have visited the house of their family friends, the Chadhas, in Sector 36. They inquired about the health of former Ambassador I.S. Chadha’s wife who recently underwent a surgery.

About Prof. S.B. Rangnekar

Prof. S.B. Rangnekar, Dr.Manmohan Singh’s teacher and later his colleague at Panjab University, is credited with founding the Department of Economics of the university then located at Hoshiarpur after Partition. In 1951, Dr. Rangnekar was appointed a Reader in Economics and he took upon himself the task of establishing teaching and research in Economics. Besides heading the department, he also headed a Ford Foundation project. The department shifted to its present location in Chandigarh in 1958.

Prof. Rangnekar carried out several studies on Punjab Economy commissioned by the Planning Commission, UNESCO and other agencies. He was associated with the Working Group of the Fourth Five Year Plan. The department under Prof. Rangnekar made an impact on development and planning which was adequately manifested in Dr. Manmohan Singh’s work for India in the Kennedy Round of Tariff negotiations carried out at the request of the Central Ministry of Commerce. The department was also known for its studies on finances of the Central and State Governments.

Dr. Rangnekar restructured the courses of Economics in the 1960s and introduced the Honours School Programme in 1966. The department is carrying forward his initiatives of the Honours School Programme and tradition of research set by him. It has carried out several projects, including a study on state finances of Punjab for the 14th Finance Commission and is currently doing so for the 15th Finance Commission.