The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy will be an agent of change

President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday used the occasion of the inauguration of a new think tank by the publishers of The Hindu to criticise the culture of “disruption” that was overwhelming Parliament and making it more difficult for policies and problems to be debated and discussed — in the House and, by implication, the country at large.

In an extempore speech delivered after inaugurating the The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy — an institution set up by the publishers of The Hindu to undertake research, promote dialogue and debate on the country’s problems — Mr. Mukherjee reflected on what he had learnt about the essence of democracy over the years. “My political science teacher taught me the three Ds essential for democracy — debate and discussion, dissent and finally decision — but when I retired on the day of my election as President I found another D injected in between — disruption.”

The function at Rashtrapati Bhavan was attended by Delhi’s who’s who, including UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda, CPI(M) leaders Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, several Union Ministers, MPs, bureaucrats, diplomats and dignitaries from various walks of life.

The President made a plea for strengthening institutions that support democracy like an independent judiciary and a free press, and reminded the audience of the diligence with which parliamentary work was undertaken in the years following Independence.

He said that while Parliament was the sole authority to approve government expenditure, not enough time was being devoted to discussions on financial matters there. Citing the example of the discussion that took place over four days in 1951 to finalise the first Plan size which was only Rs. 2,000 crore, he asked if enough time was being devoted to budgetary and financial discussions.

Referring to the Centre, N. Ram, Director, Kasturi & Sons Ltd (KSL), the company which publishes The Hindu, said there was a great deal of superficiality and dilettantism not just in mainstream Indian journalism but also in public discourse on key issues that matter. “The way the Justice J. S. Verma committee went about its work and came up with what could be a game-changing contribution within the 30-day deadline it set for itself is an inspiration and a model for all of us,” Mr. Ram added.

The Centre’s Director, Malini Parthasarathy, said the Centre should be an agent of change, rather than solely engaging in theoretical explorations at a time when there was rising public anger and strong disenchantment with politics and institutions.

“The context in which the idea of the Centre has emerged is the sharp sense of a breakdown of the basic consensus on governance and also an increasing polarisation of the national discourse. We think the Centre should help strengthen the foundational liberal principles that have made this country great,” Dr. Parthasarathy said.

Acknowledging the contribution of newspapers like The Hindu to India’s struggle for freedom and the strengthening of democracy, President Mukherjee said there was need for a research centre where there could be dialogue and discussion and where the challenges that India confronts can be analysed in an objective manner from different perspectives. “The Hindu Centre could be the most appropriate forum for such discussions.”

“Indians have become cynical”

Sunil Khilnani, Member of the Advisory Board of the Centre, said the famously “argumentative Indian has today become the cynical Indian, cynical about politicians, policy, public life and even about the constitutional order itself.”

The Centre, he said, will “support with full intellectual freedom investigations into our changing society and politics, and from its home in the south it will place its findings in the public sphere, for scrutiny and debate, and to improve our public policy choices and outcomes”.

In his vote of thanks, N. Ravi, Director, KSL, said the Centre can contribute to the political discourse and explore solutions to some of the long-standing problems. “It will help turn the power of ideas into the utility of practice,” he added.