Indian citizens must resolve not to let our freedoms be robbed by “authoritarian arrogance” or allow hatred to undermine unity, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote in an article in The Hindu on Monday on the occasion of the country’s 76th Independence Day.

“While every Indian will proudly salute the flag as it flies high, the tricolour must also remind us of the composite culture which makes us a uniquely great democracy in the world,” Singh said.

The former prime minister said that the country’s freedom struggle united Indians across multiple identities, adding that this unity “should not be frittered away through communally divisive, linguistically chauvinist, callously casteist and gender insensitive campaigns”. He said that such ploys may yield temporary political benefits, but will impede the country’s path to progress.

The Congress leader said that the benefits of prosperity must not be limited to a select few business leaders and remarked that jobless growth was not a “safe bet” for any economy, according to The Hindu.

He stated that communal and linguistic barriers will hinder the mobility of citizens across the country and will have a negative impact on growth.

“Captains of Indian industry must recognise this danger and raise their voice for national unity, not remain mute spectators when divisive politics are posing a threat to the economy,” the 89-year-old said.

Singh also emphasised on the need to promote scientific attitudes and ensure the well-being of the young.

The Congress leader expressed worry about “weakening of institutions which must safeguard democratic freedoms” and said that there was a need to shield electoral politics from money power and co-opted state agencies.

“It is for the citizens of India to protect and preserve the hard won gains of our freedom,” he said, according to The Hindu.

Global concerns

Singh’s comments came in the backdrop of several international organisations flagging concerns that democracy in India has been on a downslide.

In March 2021, the Sweden-based Varieties of Democracy, or V-Dem, said that India had turned into an “electoral autocracy”. Its report said that India’s autocratisation process has “largely followed the typical pattern for countries in the ‘Third Wave’ over the past ten years: a gradual deterioration where freedom of the media, academia, and civil society were curtailed first and to the greatest extent”.

A report by media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières in May ranked India at 150th place out of 180 countries.

The organisation has been publishing the World Press Freedom Index since 2002. India’s rank fell to 150 in 2022 from 133 in 2016.

In its latest report, the media watchdog cited “violence against journalists, the politically partisan media and the concentration of media ownership” to state that press freedom was in crisis in India.

International non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch said in its “World Report 2022” that critics of the BJP-led government “increasingly risked politically motivated harassment”.

It said that the government put in place several laws and policies that discriminated against minorities, especially Muslims. “This, coupled with vilification of Muslims by some BJP leaders and police failure to take action against BJP supporters who commit violence, emboldened Hindu nationalist groups to attack Muslims and government critics with impunity,” the report said.