Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government of failure on all fronts, saying it had led to agrarian distress, economic turmoil and deteriorating relations with neighbouring countries, and called for a national debate on providing an alternative narrative.
Speaking at the launch of senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal’s book ‘Shades of Truth–A Journey Derailed’, Singh also charged the government with failure to fulfil a plethora of promises made to the people during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and claimed that national institutions vital for good governance are experiencing unprecedented new strains.
He criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government for the November 2016 demonetisation of high-value banknotes, the hasty July 2017 implementation of the Goods and Services Tax and failure to create jobs.
The book was released by Singh and former vice-president Hamid Ansari at a function at Teen Murti Bhavan in Delhi attended by senior Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge, Salman Khurshid, Digvijaya Singh, Shashi Tharoor, Anand Sharma and Vivek Tankha, Puducherry chief minister V Narayanasamy, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, Nationalist Congress Party leader Praful Patel and Pinaki Mishra of the Biju Janata Dal.
Apart from Sibal, the panel discussion was attended by former finance minister P Chidambaram, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Trinamool Congress leader Chandan Mitra and former Janata Dal (United) MP Sharad Yadav. Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who was scheduled to take part in the panel discussion, did not attend the function.
In his book, Sibal has highlighted the failures of the Modi government and maintained that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance could not defend itself against the onslaught of allegations against it.
Former Prime Minister Singh said the people are not impressed by figures put out by the Modi government to justify its claim of creating a large number of jobs.
“Women, Dalits and minorities are increasingly living in an environment of insecurity. The Modi government has slowly but surely undermined the values that any democratic party, any democratic polity should fiercely protect,” he said.
Singh said India’s neighbourhood is “far less secure” than it was in 2014 and its relations with neighbours have “deteriorated” in the past four years.
“Academic freedom is sought to be curbed. The environment in our universities is being vitiated. All of this is a powerful indictment of the Modi government’s performance,” he added.
Later, at the panel discussion, Chidambaram said since 1989 India’s national elections have been a collection of state polls. “In 2019, it will be state-specific elections. In almost 25 states, non-BJP coalitions will be formed to defeat the BJP. We may not succeed in some states, but we will succeed in most states. That’s the plan, the hope and the expectation,” he added.
Chidambaram said the leader of the coalition will be decided after the broad-based alliance wins the 2019 elections.
Mitra said an established regional leader will lead the national coalition, hinting at Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Abdullah asked the panel that if the coalition comes to power, “will you be forgivers or will be like them (BJP) using all the institutions of the state to punish”.
“Of course not. Not at all,” Sibal replied. “We are fighting against that today and we will continue to fight against that.”
On the move earlier this year to impeach Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, a move that was later dropped, Sibal said the Congress wanted an inquiry into certain charges and there was no other way to deal it.
Chidambaram admitted that there were two views in the Congress on the impeachment issue with one supporting it and the other arguing that the move will not even cross the first hurdle. “I was of the view that it is a futile exercise and as I had predicted the attempt failed at the first hurdle itself,” he said.