"Final Chance To Protect Nation From...": Manmohan Singh's 7th Phase Appeal

In a three-page open letter the veteran Congress leader lamented the "unimaginable turmoil" in the Indian economy over the past decade - the two terms of PM Modi.

'Final Chance To Protect Nation From...': Manmohan Singh's 7th Phase Appeal

Former PM Manmohan Singh also served as a Rajya Sabha MP (File).

New Delhi:

Ex-Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, 91, has made an emotional appeal to Punjab voters before voting Saturday in the final phase of the 2024 Lok Sabha election - to make the most of a "final chance to ensure our democracy and Constitution are protected from repeated assaults by a despotic regime".

In a three-page open letter the veteran Congress leader lamented the "unimaginable turmoil" in the Indian economy over the past decade - the two terms of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.

Dr Singh - who was Finance Minister when Indian economy was liberalised in 1991, and was also Governor of the Reserve Bank - presented a succinct comparison of key socio-political and economic moments from the past 10 years and the two terms of his Congress-led UPA government.

Dr Singh On GDP Growth

"The imposition of the demonetisation disaster, a flawed GST (goods and service tax), and the painful mismanagement during the COVID pandemic has resulted in a miserable situation, where an expectation of subpar six to seven per cent GDP growth has become the new normal," Dr Singh said.

"Average GDP growth under BJP government has plunged to under six per cent... during Congress-UPA tenure it was about eight per cent (New Series). Unprecedented unemployment and unbridled inflation have greatly widened inequality, which is now at a 100-year high," the former PM said.

According to World Bank data GDP growth under the UPA government touched a high of 8.5 per cent in 2010, and hit a low of 3.1 per cent in 2008 (during the global financial crisis). In the 10 years since it has reached a high of 9.1 per cent (in 2021) and plummeted to -5.8 during the pandemic.

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Incidentally, Dr Singh's letter was shared on X by the Congress an hour after the central bank released its annual report, in which it forecast real GDP growth of seven per cent for FY2024/25.

Last week a State Bank of India report pegged overall FY2023/24 growth at eight per cent.

Dr Singh said the UPA "despite challenges, had increased purchasing power of our people", while "BJP misrule has resulted in depletion of household savings to historic 47-year low"; in FY2022/23 households' net financial savings plunged to a five-year low of Rs 14.2 trillion 5.3 per cent of GDP.

However, between FY2011/12 and FY2021/22 (except for the pandemic years) the same figure was between seven and eight percent.

Dr Singh On Farmers' Protest

Referring to farmers' protests that still haunt the centre - four years after a nation-wide agitation by lakhs of agriculturists made headlines worldwide, and forced the BJP to roll back three controversial laws - he reproached the government for having "left no stone unturned in castigating Punjabis".

"As if the lathis and rubber bullets were not enough, the Prime Minister verbally assaulted our farmers by calling them 'parasites' on the floor of the Parliament," he said.

READ | Farmers Resolve To Intensify Protest, Continue During Polls

"Modiji had promised to double the income of our farmers by 2022 (but) his policies in the past 10 years have eroded the earnings... the national average monthly income of farmers is a meagre Rs 27 per day, while average debt per farmer is Rs 27,000 (from government data)," Dr Singh said.

READ | Farmers Try To Cross Punjab-Haryana Border, Tear Gas Used

The former PM then highlighted the UPA government's loan waivers "worth Rs 72,000 crore to 3.73 crore farmers" and said it had "increased MSP (minimum support price, at the heart of renewed farmers protest against the BJP government), and increased production, while encouraging exports".

The Congress today, he continued, had promised a legal guarantee for MSP, which has been one of the protesting farmers' biggest demands, and a stable import-export policy for agriculture, as well as loan waivers and the "direct transfer of insured compensation in 30 days in case of crop loss".

Dr Singh On Income Disparity, Jobs For Youth

Dr Singh also flagged wage disparity that has led to "widespread distress".

His red-flag on this subject comes after a report by the World Inequality Lab in March, which said India's richest people today have a larger share of national income than at any time in the past 100 years.

The former PM also flagged "course corrections" - the five 'yuva nyay' pillars - in his party's election manifesto with specific reference to unemployment among the youth, and also "...30 lakh government (job) vacancies (and) innumerable paper leaks have cast a dark shadow on their future".

"We have committed that 30 lakh vacancies would be systematically filed according to a job calendar... half of those jobs would be reserved for women, and we will establish fast-track courts for (exam) paper leak cases..." Dr Singh said in his letter.

The BJP, though, has argued that indicators like filed income tax returns (3.36 crore in 2014 to over eight crore in 2024) suggest jobs are being generated. Mr Modi has also pointed to Employee Provident Fund data - over six crore new subscribers in seven years - to make the same point.

READ | Unemployment Falls To 6.7 Per Cent In Urban Areas: Survey

A government report last week said unemployment rate for people over 15 (in urban areas) 'fell' to 6.7 per cent in the January-March period; it was 6.8 per cent a year ago.

Dr Singh On Agniveer

The former Prime Minister also mounted a sharp attack on the BJP over the contentious Agnipath military recruitment scheme, which the Congress has said it will scrap if it wins this election.

READ | "Soldiers Like Labourers": Rahul Gandhi On Agniveer Scheme

"BJP government imposed an ill-conceived Agniveer scheme (Agniveer is the name given to those who enlist under the Agnipath programme) on our armed forces... BJP thinks value of patriotism, bravery, and service is only four years. This shows their fake nationalism," he said.

NDTV Exclusive | "Back Off": Rajnath Singh To Opposition On Agnipath

Defending the scheme, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told NDTV this week he is "fully confident the scheme is successful and will remain so", and hit out at the opposition for politicising the issue.

Dr Singh's Appeal To Punjab Voters

All of Punjab's 13 Lok Sabha seats will vote on Friday. The Congress is contesting all the seats, despite being part of the INDIA bloc with the ruling AAP, setting up a 'friendly-fire' election.

READ | "Give All 13 Seats To AAP": Kejriwal To Punjab Voters

The veteran Congress leader reminded the border state and its inhabitants of their warrior spirit, and said their "indomitable courage and innate belief in the democratic ethos of inclusiveness, harmony, and brotherhood" is needed, at this point in history, to "protect our great nation".

"Punjab and Punjabis are warriors. We are known for our spirit of sacrifice," he said, lamenting the BJP government for having left "no stone unturned in castigating Punjab, Punjabis, and punjabiyat".

Dr Singh On PM Modi

Finally, the former Prime Minister also took a swipe at the current leader, declaring Mr Modi had "lowered the dignity of public discourse". "No PM, in the past, has uttered hateful, unparliamentary, and coarse terms... meant to target either a specific section of society or opposition," he said.

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The reference has been seen to a massive row over the Prime Minister's speech in Rajasthan, in which he referred to Muslims and the Congress' alleged plans to "redistribute wealth to infiltrators".

The remarks prompted a notice to Mr Modi's BJP (and another to the Congress over comments by Rahul Gandhi) after each complained the other had violated the Model Code of Conduct.

Dr Manmohan Singh concluded his letter with a warning that India's voters "are seeing through all of this... narrative of dehumanisation (that) has now reached its peak", and called on them to "save our beloved nation from these forces of discord".

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