Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog, found himself in the middle of a controversy when he was quoted by Hindustan Times as saying, “Too much of democracy hampering reforms in India” while speaking at a virtual event organised by Swarajya Magazine. Kant took to Twitter to deny saying these words. “This is definitely not what I said. I was speaking about MEIS scheme & resources being spread thin & need for creating global champions in manufacturing sector,” he said.
The Hindustan Times tweet and article were based on a PTI report. After Kant’s reaction, Hindustan Times deleted the tweet as well as the article. The link now opens to a page that states, “This story, sourced from news agency Press Trust of India, has been withdrawn“. The PTI story, however, is available on other publications like Financial Express and India Today while The Indian Express has changed its original headline of “India has too much democracy, tough reforms difficult” to “India needs more reforms, states must take lead: NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant”.
In fact, Swarajya tweeted that “some mischievous elements have attempted to distort” and quote Kant’s statement out of context.
Meanwhile, IBTimes has already fact-checked whether he made the statement and concluded that his remarks were taken out of context.
To find out what exactly Kant said, Alt News listened to the recording of the event and found that he had indeed said India is “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.”
Then 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. Then he elaborates about the ‘political will’ to carry out these ‘hard-headed reforms’.
In both these instances, it is clear that the NITI Aayog CEO is referring to “too much of a democracy” of the past being a hindrance in producing global champions and in carrying out reforms. He backs this up stating how for the first time the government is hard-headed in its approach as opposed to “too much democracy” of spreading the resources thin by supporting and pleasing everyone.
The organizer of the event Swarajya Magazine came out with a clarification that their interaction with Kant was on PLI and manufacturing, not political systems. They pointed out that his response was in the context of spreading resources too thin and not creating global champions. Kant may not be referring to democracy as a political system but as a participative approach of taking everyone onboard. But there is no denying that he used the phrase “too much democracy” with a negative connotation.
Kant’s statements and the context can be heard in the full video. It is not clear what prompted the publications to delete their stories or change the headlines when a video of the interview is available and what he said was quoted verbatim.