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Government of India
Prime Minister's Office
19-November-2010 19:04 IST
PM Inaugurates Indira Gandhi Conference
'An Indian Social Democracy: from Political Vision to Practical Possibility’
The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh inaugurated the 10th Indira Gandhi Conference in New Delhi today. Following is the text of the Prime Minister’s speech on the occasion:

“The Indira Gandhi Conference has long become a landmark event in the intellectual calendar of the world. I have had the good fortune of participating in previous conferences and listening to some of the most profound and engaging thinkers of our times. These conferences have always been a fine tribute to the memory of a great leader, a great daughter of modern India, and a great citizen of the world.

I am sure this year too you will all be participating in an intellectually invigorating and socially relevant discourse. Let me join the organizers in extending my own greetings to all the distinguished participants who have come from around the world. I look forward to the opportunity of conversing with at least some of you during your stay here in our capitol.

The theme and focus of your Conference has a particular relevance for our times. I believe you intend to examine the relevance of the global experience of social democracy for India, and consider how a new vision can be transformed into a living reality.

We are living through a momentous phase in the history of the social evolution of humankind. The past century has been witness to many intellectual debates on forms of social, political and economic organization of human societies.

Some debates went out of control and ceased to be debates. They became battles. Blood was spilt in the name of ideology. Communism, fascism, monopoly capitalism, etatism, and many other ideologies demanded such loyalty from their adherents that people have killed and died in their name.

More recent conflicts rooted in religious ideologies, and made worse by the cancer of terrorism, are no different from earlier ones rooted in political ideologies. Mahatma Gandhi mocked them all when he said ‘an eye for an eye leaves us all blind’.

No battle of ideas has ever been won on a battlefield. It is, as Karl Marx said so profoundly, in the minds of men that the seeds of material change are sowed. A battle of ideas is won and lost in the minds of people. That is why freedom is so fundamentally important.

Our national movement began as a struggle for freedom, but became a mighty fight for democracy. Swaraj is my birthright, said Lokmanya Tilak and sowed the idea of nationhood in a diverse people. But we did not seek freedom for freedom’s sake.

We sought freedom to liberate ourselves from centuries of misrule, from the scourge of poverty, ignorance and disease, from tyranny and bigotry, from caste prejudice and communal divisions. Thus, the Constitution of India was a unique social charter – the boldest statement ever of social democracy.

When Panditji launched India’s first five year plan this social democratic vision informed our plan strategy. The Resolution of the Government of India creating the Planning Commission, in March, 1950, stated:

"The Constitution of India has guaranteed certain Fundamental Rights to the citizens of India and enunciated certain Directive Principles of State Policy, in particular, that the State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life, and shall direct its policy towards securing, among other things:

a. that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood ;
b. that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good ;
c. that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment.”

This was the vision that shaped our national policy. The First Five Year Plan (1951-56) opened with the lines:

“The central objective of planning in India at the present stage is to initiate a process of development which will raise living standards and open out to the people new opportunities for a richer and more varied life. …………………… But the economic condition of a country at any given time is a product of the broader social environment, and economic planning has to be viewed as an integral part of a wider process aiming not merely at the development of resources in a narrow technical sense, but at the development of human faculties and the building up of an institutional framework adequate to the needs and aspirations of the people.”

The entire saga of development in India in the second half of the 20th Century has been a saga of converting this grand ‘political vision into practical possibilities’.

New institutions of inclusive governance were created - panchayati raj institutions; training and extension centres and development administration; programmes for rural development and for the social and economic upliftment of weaker sections of society.

Some worked, others did not. Some regions benefitted others did not. Development was uneven, but its motivating force was our commitment to social justice and economic empowerment of all.

In the mid-1970s, when Indiraji took stock and gave a new thrust to pro-poor development, the Fifth Five Year Plan (1974-79) observed:

“No Plan can ignore the deep-seated urges of our people for greater equality. The reduction of disparities of all kinds— social, economic and regional—must always remain one of the central objectives of our developmental planning. The direction of our planning is to solve over a period of time the problems of the poor of all communities, especially tribals, Harijans, backward communities and regions.”

A new set of programmes and policies was crafted to more effectively translate our political vision into practical possibilities.

I submit to you that every generation must define its own vision and its own instruments to attain that vision. But, I also urge you to consider that the vision of “inclusive growth” that we now talk about is in fact what has defined development planning in India from day one.

To realize that vision we created programmes and institutions. We have achievements to be proud of, and we have failures to learn from. Some programmes worked, others didn’t. Some institutions played their assigned role, others failed or withered away.

We have made mistakes and sought to correct them, as we did, for example, in the early 1990s. But our journey has been nothing less than a unique struggle to realize the vision of a just and caring society, in the context of a backward and developing economy and in the framework of a free and democratic polity.

Indiraji’s call for “Growth with Social Justice” defined the concept of social democracy for my generation. We understood that the two must go together – the search for growth and the search of social justice. That a developing economy like India needs resources and revenues to be able to distribute them equitably. This calls for both resurgent growth and prudent management of our public finances.

When growth was not forthcoming, we had to take steps to stimulate it. This among other things involved a relook at the role of the state and market forces in the development process, of incentives to promote risk taking and entrepreneurship and regulation of private enterprises. When distributional interventions seemed to fail, we had to create new instruments covering a mix of entitlement and empowerment approaches and new institutions to promote equity.

India has developed a range of institutions and programmes that have become the basis of social democratic policy in many countries. From the panchayat raj to the public distribution system, from public health programmes to mid-day meals programme, from educational interventions aimed to empower Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, other Backward Classes, Minorities, our women and the girl child, India has put in place a wide range of practical policies.

Our government has further strengthened the foundations of inclusive growth. The historic and revolutionary rural employment guarantee programme, that we owe to Soniaji’s inspired vision, has been acknowledged around the world as a powerful instrument of social justice in a backword economy.

Our policies for health care, education and rural infrastructure are all aimed at making our growth processes more socially inclusive.

I have, therefore, two propositions for your consideration:

First, that there is an “Indian” model of “social democratic” development that is rooted in the ideas and ideals that defined our national movement, that define our Constitution as it has evolved. This Indian model has evolved with time, reflecting all the gains and limitations of our political, economic and social development.

Second, the reach and efficacy of this evolving model of social democracy is critically dependent both on its fiscal sustainability and institutional efficiency.

In addressing the challenge of fiscal sustainability, one cannot put the cart before the horse. The experience of other countries, especially in Europe, tells us that governmental over-reach and fiscal over commitment can sometimes lead to economic crises.

With higher growth has come the opportunity of generating more revenues that can be invested in human and social development. But, higher growth has also been associated with higher inequalities and simultaneously increased expectations of the people at large. There is a revolution of rising expectations underway in India which any government has to take note of.

Against this tide of rising expectations, we confront the challenge of revitalizing institutions of development administration and getting rid of the cancer of corruption in our public life. We need institutions and mechanisms that can deliver effectively our promise of livelihood security, the Right to Education, to employment, to food and to shelter.

These institutions cannot be built top down. Development administration is the responsibility of State governments in our federal polity. Unless development administration is strengthened, is made more representative, more accountable and transparent, allocating more financial resources from New Delhi will only contribute to higher levels of corruption and leakage of funds.

We have seen from our experience with the employment guarantee programme that the effective realization of a right we grant in New Delhi varies from State to State, from district to district. Local competence determines the outcome of national campaigns and this is the reality which has to be borne in mind.

The Indian Parliament has legislated the Right to Education. But the responsibility to educate lies mostly the local bodies and district administrations. We are presently considering the legislation of a Right to Food, but this right can only be realized if we have an effective public distribution system in place in every neighbourhood. We can legislate a minimum wage from New Delhi, but its implementation is in the hands of local governments.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, we must appreciate that the vision of social democracy can only be translated into practical possibilities by institutions of governance at the level where the State interacts with the citizen. It is at that level that we need a state that is more sensitive, more responsible, more transparent, more efficient and more honest.

I urge social scientists studying the Indian reality, and committed to its change and improvement, to focus on governance at this level and show how it can be improved and modernised. Reality differs from state to state, from region to region, from sub-region to another. We have to bridge this gulf.

How can higher outlays be translated into better outcomes? How can a democracy of rights be transformed into a social democracy of rights and responsibilities – responsibilities of different levels of government, of elected representatives, of civil servants, of the corporate sector and of every citizen. Such is the challenge before us.

India's struggle for social and economic transformation of its 1.2 billion strong population in the framework of an open society and a democratic polity, committed to respect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law has no parallel in history. Our success in accomplishing this gigantic task could have great significance for the evolution of human kind in this twenty first century of ours.

I have great pleasure in inaugurating this conference. I wish your conference all success in its deliberation.

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HS/SKS