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‘Trust Between The Govt & The Business Stands Eroded’: Full Text of Dr Manmohan Singh’s Speech at the Hindu BusinessLine Changemaker Awards

"We have opted for a democratic path for ourselves. There is no room for authoritarian impositions from above."

I am honoured to be with you this evening. I am glad to see my old friend, Venu.. and it is nice to see so many leaders from the business community.

The Hindu group of publications is one of our oldest and most respected media houses. It is not just a media outlet; it has become a national institution.  Over the years its contents, its editorial commitments, its pursuit of excellence have reflected the desire in society for change. Of late, it has refurbished its reputation as a purveyor of honest and daring journalism.

The Hindu group’s decision in 1994 to add a business daily to its journalistic repertoire itself reflected the new national mood of change in the economic policy; in less than 25 years, BusinessLine has made a name for itself for sober news and reflective analysis. and, I commend the Business Line editors and publishers for instituting an award to recognise and honour change-makers.

I compliment all the winners this evening.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are a young nation but an old society. This old society reflects the strength of our ancient civilisation and its traditions.

Since ancient days we experienced a collective strength and confidence when we remained alive to the need for change; we progressed and prospered whenever we could recognise and promote change, and we moved forward when the society and the administration facilitated the work of the potential change-makers.

And, when in our long march we faltered, it was because our social order had become stagnant,  and we became too comfortable with status quo and, consequently, discouraged change, innovation, invention and discovery.

When we became an Independent nation, we were guided by Mahatma Gandhi, who preached a blending of tradition with revolutionary ideas and changes. Then, our first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru talked relentlessly of the importance of inculcating a new ‘scientific temper’, even though he was most insistent on preserving the best of our civilisational heritage.

Ladies and gentlemen,

No change is permanent. It is in the nature of things that just as the old must give way to new ideas and new ways, in due time the ‘new’ seeks to entrench itself; it becomes the new status quo.

Societies grow and progress when creativity is encouraged to challenge the status quo.

In 1991, our nation faced a difficult choice and we were called upon to change our ways to thinking how to make better the lives of millions and millions of our countrymen.  Much had been achieved before 1991 in this land of poverty and deprivation, but still much more had to be done— and, done differently.

However, it was just not enough to recognise the need for change.

If you will permit me, ladies and gentlemen, I shall want to submit that it is vital to prepare all stakeholders for the coming change; because changes produce some disruption, some pain, and considerable discomfort.

It becomes, then, the task of the statesman to take the citizens into confidence and explain to them the need for change. It is never easy to make citizens accept deprivation, even temporary.

And, it is important for the change-maker to have faith. Many people often recall that at the end of my first budget speech, on July 24, 1991, I had quoted Victor Hugo in support of my budget proposals, “no power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.” That quotation is often repeated.

But, ladies and gentlemen, often the next few sentences are not cited. Let me recall those: “ ...emergence of India as a major economic power in the world happens to be one such idea. Let the whole world hear it loud and clear. India is now wide awake. We shall prevail. We shall overcome.

With all humility at my command, I wish to suggest that we could change a few things in 1991 because some of us had faith in India and Indian people. Perhaps it was a faith in our old fashioned nationalism. Without that faith in the ability of the Indian people to absorb and appreciate change, the 1991 story would not have happened.  The Economic Reforms of 1991 began the process of change, a process that had been carried on by successive governments.

Often I am asked if my perspective and views changed when I became prime minister in 2004. Obviously, a prime minister has a different and wider responsibility than does a finance minister. As Prime Minister, you have to factor in political and social implications.

After all, no innovation, especially in the public policy realm, can succeed without a reasonable consensus about it. We have opted for a democratic path for ourselves. There is no room for authoritarian impositions from above.

Perhaps I may be allowed to add that it is the responsibility of the political leadership to temper the harshness of change, especially for the more vulnerable sections of our society. And, a change becomes acceptable as a social policy when it is seen as fair and equitable. Our social compact must be seen as just and even-handed.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to note that this evening change-makers in various categories are being honoured.

I believe our business enterprises have to necessarily accept the mantra of change.

I am aware that the young and new leadership in the business community in India is full of confidence, full of josh, and full of its inner strength to embrace the changes in technology, communication, and creativity.

I am also gratified that the new business leaders know that our citizens, as consumers, are no longer satisfied with old services and old products. Our society is most receptive to change and I am sure that there will be consumer support to innovations and changes in business practices and protocols.

Of late, many negative perceptions have been manufactured about business leaders; the business community, big and small, has been made to feel the wrath of coercive agencies. A hostile narrative has been built; this will sap not only the confidence of our own business leaders it will also create doubts in the mind of foreign governments and business leaders. Honest businessman and genuine entrepreneur must never be allowed to feel harassed by the petty revenue officials. Unfortunately, Trust between the government and the business stands eroded.

I believe it is the responsibility of economic publications like the BusinessLine to create in our country an intellectual atmosphere that abets industriousness, innovation and imagination among the business community. The society, the government and the business stand to benefit from conditions of trust, lawfulness and fairness.

By honouring some of the change-makers in the society, The  Hindu BusinessLine promotes the idea of change and innovation as a social partnership.

I congratulate, once again, all the winners. Keep up the good work. And, keep challenging yourself.

Jai Hind

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