PM Narendra Modi threatening idea of India, stifling dissent: Manmohan Singh

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New Delhi : Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of curbing academic freedom and stifling dissent, his predecessor Manmohan Singh on Friday said the "idea of India" was being threatened under his government, which not only sought to rule India, but to change its "very heart and soul".

Often criticized by his successor for being a non-vocal prime minister during his term, Singh attacked Modi for remaining silent in the face of widespread communal violence, mob lynchings, and cow vigilantism.

He also accused him of failing the electorate and eroding voters' faith in his words and "lofty" promises while "vitiating" the environment of Indian universities and national institutions like the CBI.

He was speaking at the release of a book 'The Paradoxical Prime Minister: Narendra Modi and His India' written by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.

"While he (Modi) speaks of being a Prime Minister for all Indians, but the government he presides over has been mostly silent in the face of widespread communal violence, mob lynching, and cow vigilantism," Singh said.

He said Modi did not represent the secular, plural, free and equal society that India's founding fathers had envisioned.

On the economic front, Singh said the Modi government had achieved "nothing more than a series of empty gestures" and that his "foolhardy inititatives" had proved to be a setback for the economy.

"Nothing concrete has been done to bring back the promised billions allegedly held abroad as black money. A hastily implemented demonetisation and GST have proved to be disastrous.

"Petrol and diesel prices are at historic high despite the fall in international crude oil prices because the Modi government chose to levy excessive excise duty," he said.

Echoing his views, Congress leader P. Chidambaram said Modi was an embodiment of an illiberal democracy and was driving India towards that.

"Once an illiberal democracy is in place, everything will go wrong and we would move towards dictatorship," he said.

Referring to the ongoing crisis in the CBI, Chidambaram said it was an example of how an institution was being destroyed.

"It (CBI) always had its weaknesses, I am not denying that... But today we have virtually destroyed it," he said adding it was the same story with the Central Information Commission and the Central Election Commission.

"Every institution is being destroyed from within by putting your people there, destabilising it, capturing it and then bending it (on its) knees. We need to wake up to that," he said adding people had started to sense what was happening.

Former BJP leader Arun Shourie said Modi had lost control of the administration, be it CBI, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) or the Intelligence Bureau, and that there was an "absolute civil war" going on in the PMO.

He said people often underestimate the power of falsehood and don't evaluate things before acclaiming them, "like in case of the Gujarat model".

"Today we're surprised that ministers have no powers - but that's the Gujarat model. Our parliament has been reduced to annullity... Civil servants have become yes men... IB, ED and CBI are being used to terrorise opponents.. but that's what the Gujarat model was," he said.

The author of the book, Tharoor, said that Modi became Prime Minister on the back of a "full-fledged" marketing campaign but that he won't stay popular for long.

"You can be an outstanding salesperson, but people who are buying your package keep realising that the package is empty. How long will they keep buying the same package?" he asked.

He said while his book was not neutral in its criticism of Modi as he was, after all, a member of the Congress party, but that it was measured in its criticism and substantiated with facts and figures.

Former Aam Aadmi Party leader Ashutosh said the common mistake people made was to try to understand Modi as a man, not as an ideology.

"It is not the man who is communal but the ideology which is communal. That ideology has been preparing to convert India into a Hindu nation for the last 90 years and that project is going on. Modi is the puppet of that ideology which has been thrust upon this country," he said.

JD(U) leader Pawan K. Varma took the counterview and asked why the Opposition was unable to do the packaging and produce a leader who had the organisational skills to take on Modi even after four-and-a-half years of anti-incumbency "staring him in the face".