NITI Aayog Chief Executive Officer, Amitabh Kant's remarks during a recent virtual event has now become a full-fledged controversy. Kant has received massive flak for his remarks saying there is 'too much of a democracy' to enact tough reforms in India.
Kant, however, took to Twitter to deny having made such a statement. He claimed that it was 'definitely not' what he said. He said that he "was speaking about the MEIS scheme & resources being spread thin & need for creating global champions in the manufacturing sector."
The controversy started after the news agency, Press Trust of India (PTI) quoted Kant as saying that it was difficult to implement reforms in India, as 'we have too much of a democracy'. According to the news agency, Kant said that for the first time, the Centre had had the courage to carry out hard reforms across sectors including agriculture, mining, labour, and coal and the next reforms must be pushed by the states.
"Tough reforms are very difficult in the Indian context, we have too much democracy...You need political will to carry out these reforms (mining, coal, labour, agriculture) and many more reforms still need to be done," he was quoted as saying.
Hindustan Times shared the PTI story titled 'Too Much Of Democracy Hampering Reforms in India, Says Amitabh Kant'. Later, both the media outlets retracted the story after Kant's tweet.
The HT's webpage now opens to a page that reads "This story, sourced from news agency Press Trust of India, has been withdrawn."
The PTI report is still available on other media platforms, including India Today and The Financial Express.
Defending Kant's comment's, Swarajya Magazine came out with a clarification that their discussion with the NITI Aayog chief was on PLI and manufacturing, and not political systems. The magazine stated that 'some mischievous elements have attempted to distort' and quote Kant's statement out of context.
Later, IBTimes in their fact-checked report claimed that his remarks were taken out of context.
However, the video shows otherwise.
Kant can be heard saying 'Too much of a democracy' not once but twice.
First, at 25.43, Kant can be heard as saying, "In India, we are too much of a democracy, so we keep supporting everybody". He went on to elaborate, "For the first time in India a government has thought big in terms of size and scale and said we want to produce global champions. Nobody had the political will and the courage to say that we want to support five companies who want to be global champions. Everyone used to say I want to support everyone in India. I want to get votes from everyone."
The second time was at 33.03 he can be heard as saying, "Tough reforms are very difficult in the Indian context. We are too much of a democracy". He goes on to add that for the first time, the government has the courage and the determination to carry out hard-headed reforms across sectors.
He then elaborates upon the 'political will' to carry out these 'hard-headed reforms'. When asked if the crisis (coronavirus pandemic) was a 'second chance' for India to make its mark, Kant's comments clearly refer to the past being an obstacle in producing global champions and in carrying out reforms.
Backing this up, he further states in the video how for the first time the government has had the courage to be hard-headed in its approach as opposed to "too much democracy" of spreading the resources thin by supporting and pleasing everyone.
Netizens called out Kant for his comments as well as denying the remarks later.
The Logical Indian Take
The reason behind the withdrawal of stories by PTI and Hindustan Times is not clear, but it goes on to show how any news detrimental to the government/ political interests can be taken down at authorities' beck and call. This also leaves us questioning if there is any medium which is independent of any external pressure.
For a news agency, PTI is still considered reliable than the most and has been the preferred choice of media organisations.
Earlier, in June this year, the agency came to limelight after Prasar Bharati allegedly threatened to cancel its subscription for its 'anti-national' coverage. The news agency had interviewed Chinese ambassador Sun Weidong amid the border standoff between India and China.
For an upstanding mammoth organization to succumb to the pressure of the ruling dispensation and withdraw a story, speaks volumes of the pressure that small journalists fight to do stories that are critical of the government.