NITI Aayog Chief Executive Officer Amitabh Kant on Friday wrote in The Indian Express that his “India is too much of a democracy” remark was taken out of context. His comments were sharply criticised on social media.

The think-tank head claimed what he meant was that India is “too much of a democracy to mirror the China model” in terms of tough reforms. “What I said and what has been ascribed to me are poles apart,” he claimed. “My statement, with relevant portions, is that India is too much of a democracy to mirror a China model. How this has been misconstrued to mean we have ‘too much democracy’ is both myopic and idiosyncratic.”

Kant said that in a social media-absorbed system, “depth and discussion” are left out for brevity. “But in that brevity we dispense with rationality,” he said.

The CEO said that India is a democracy with checks and balances. “From the perspective of structural reforms, it means that consensus needs to be built into our processes,” he said. “Reforms require the buy-in of every stakeholder and therefore they take longer than in the China model. This is factual – it is not partisan, it is not anti-democratic, nor is it overtly critical.”

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Niti Aayog’s Kant denies saying India is ‘too much of a democracy’, Twitter users share event clip

Kant referred to an editorial in The Indian Express titled “Reform, as per Mr Kant”, which said that he did “disservice” to democracy and reform. The article noted that Kant’s controversial comments were made during the farmers’ protest against the Centre’s agricultural laws. “To see reforms as adversarial to the democratic process is to foreclose spaces for negotiation, innovation, and dialogue,” the editorial, published on December 10, had read.

The think-tank chief said it “inappropriately” took his speech and connected it to the agricultural reforms row. “Since agricultural reforms have been brought up in the editorial, let’s look at all the consultations and democratic processes observed in India when formulating these landmark bills,” Kant wrote.

He added:

“The editorial states that farm reforms were passed ‘with little or no evidence of consultation’. The trinity of legislation to facilitate contract farming, remove price restrictions and boost open trade have been the culmination of comprehensive, far-reaching and wide-ranging stakeholder consultations over the last two decades. A plethora of commissions, reports, task forces, model legislation, regulations and rules have suggested these reforms.”

— Amitabh Kant, The Indian Express

On Tuesday, Kant had denied making “too much of a democracy” comment in response to a question about the manufacturing sector during an online event. He tweeted a Hindustan Times article about his statement, claiming that it was “definitely not” what he had said. The report cited by Kant was also withdrawn.

The report had cited a section of Kant’s answer to a question during an event organised by Swarajya magazine. The think tank head was asked about the Centre’s policies for the manufacturing sector amid the pandemic and if the crisis was a “second chance” for India to make its mark.

Kant replied: “Tough reforms are very difficult in the Indian context...we are too much of a democracy. For the first time, the government has had the courage and determination to carry out very hard-headed reforms across sectors...Mining, coal, labour, agriculture. These are very, very difficult reforms.”

Following Kant’s denial, Twitter users posted the specific clip of his speech to point out that his statement seemed to be along the same lines as the quote that he was denying. In the full clip of the online event, Kant can be heard making the comments at the 33-minute mark.