Addressing the first S B Rangnekar Memorial Oration at the Panjab University, his alma mater, Dr Singh said India's electoral system has succeeded against great odds and has destroyed feudal systems of government. It has opened up opportunities for the common man, without any social, economic or political privilege whatsoever by birth, to occupy the highest positions of power, he said.
"There is, however, today widespread concern that our electoral system is being undermined by money power and muscle power," he said addressing the gathering.
"The faith of the people in democratic elections as the best system to select a government that would govern in the common interest is today being eroded as much by a sustained campaign to attack democratic institutions and elected representatives as by the increasing political corruption and the capture of political parties and elected office by vested interests," he said.
Electoral reforms to cleanse elections of money and muscle power and to maintain integrity of elected officials are vital areas for securing and strengthening India's democracy, said the former prime minister.
Talking about renewing commitment to democracy, Dr Singh invoked B R Ambedkar and said, "Democracy requires not only that all of us must get involved, but that we must each ensure that everyone has an equal voice."
"Dr. Ambedkar once worried that the day may come when people may prefer government for the people to government by and of the people. He saw that as a great danger. On this 70th anniversary, we must ensure that we do not fall into the trap of choosing government for the people over government by and of the people."
The topic of Mr Singh's address was: The Seventieth Anniversary of our Independence - Strengthening the roots of our Democracy.
"We need to ask ourselves whether we are losing patience with democracy and turning to more authoritarian alternatives that may well yield superior short-term results but in the long term will end up destroying our country and all the achievements of the last seventy years," he said.
"Governance is complex. It is messy. It is slow. Its benefits are long term. It requires great patience. Above all, democracy is a system in which people without privilege have a decisive voice in governance. If this is lost, democracy becomes meaningless," said Dr Singh.
Dwelling on the issue of equality, Dr Singh said it is the keystone of democracy. "And it is one of the greatest challenges faced by India in building our democracy because of the persistence in our society of feudal, hierarchical ideas of inequality based on caste, class and gender."
Dr Singh said, "Speaking on November 25, 1949 to the Constituent Assembly about his concerns on the challenge of transforming India into a society based on equality, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said, [In our Republic], in politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one-man-one-vote and one-vote-one-value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one-man-one-value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life?
"If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up."
Dr Singh said that the country's first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru warned in 1952 in one of his letters to chief ministers, "if poverty and low standards continue then democracy for all its fine institutions and ideals, ceases to be a liberating force."
"The economic liberalisation that I was associated with in 1991-1996 (as the finance minister) and 2004-2014 (as the prime minister) was, above all, a process of opening up new opportunities for people born without social and economic privilege. This was for me the guiding vision behind our economic reforms," he said.
He said democracy is more than a system of governance.
"Equality, freedom and fraternity are the three values that constitute the life breath of democracy - its very essence," he said.
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