Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has warned that communal tensions, economic mismanagement and COVID-19 virus scare are threatening India's progress.
In a well-articulated edit page piece in The Hindu on Friday, Singh elaborates the imminent dangers India is facing from the trinity of social disharmony, economic slowdown and global health epidemic.
"It is with a very heavy heart that I write this," reads his opening paragraph.
Singh then mentions the Delhi riots in which 50 people were killed and the attacks on university campuses and public places, which were '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 writes.
He argues that the impact of social unrest will only exacerbate 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. No amount of tweaking of tax rates, showering of corporate incentives or goading will propel Indian or foreign businesses to invest, when the risk of eruption of sudden violence in one’s neighbourhood looms large. Lack of investment means lack of jobs and incomes, which, in turn, means lack of consumption and demand in the economy. A lack of demand will only further suppress private investments. This is the vicious cycle that our economy is stuck in," he writes.
Singh urges the Narendra Modi-led government to quickly embark on a three-point plan to overcome the current 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 writes.
Advice to Modi
He asks Prime Minister Modi to convince the nation, not merely through words but by deeds, that he is cognisant of the dangers the country is facing and reassure the nation that he can help tide over the crisis.
"He must immediately provide details of the contingency plan for the threat of the COVID-19 scare," Singh writes.
Elaborating on the threat posed by the COVID-19 epidemic, Singh feels that 'a health epidemic is one of the most dangerous threats that a nation can face'.
But he sees an opportunity in the crisis as "the slowing down of China can potentially open up an opportunity for India to unleash second-generation reforms to become a larger player in the global economy and vastly improve prosperity levels for hundreds of millions of Indians."
'Duty to speak truth'
He concludes the piece stating it is his duty to speak the truth to the people of the country, though he doesn't want to offer a dire prognosis or to exaggerate fears. "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."