Former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the National Democratic Alliance government at Parliament House on Aug. 5, 2015, in New Delhi
Sonu Mehta—Hindustan Times/Getty Images
November 6, 2015 2:45 AM EST

The escalating debate over freedom of speech in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw yet another prominent voice enter the fray on Friday — that of his predecessor Manmohan Singh, who said suppression of dissent could pose a “grave danger” to economic development.

Singh, who served two consecutive terms as Prime Minister from 2004 to 2014, said in a speech that the state and religion should remain separate, Indian broadcaster NDTV reported.

“In a secular republic, no religion can become the basis of public policy or governance, nor can any religious belief be imposed on anyone,” he said.

Singh’s remarks come a day after 24 Indian filmmakers returned national awards to protest growing intolerance, adding to dozens from various fields who have done so in recent weeks. They also come on the eve of election results in the state of Bihar, where Singh’s Congress party has formed a partnership with the current ruling party against the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.


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