24th February 2017
Five days ago I wrote an Open Letter to Gurcharan Das, one of India’s major liberal thinkers.
Gurcharan has responded by taking membership of the party. He will also raise the issue of political liberalism and the great challenges it faces in India in a future article.
His taking membership sends a strong signal to India and to the world – that this is a challenge worth taking.
This is also a signal to all those who support liberty in India – to join SBP and put their shoulder to the task of educating India about the benefits of freedom – and of contesting elections to offer India a real choice.
Swarna Bharat Party brings a message of optimism and hope to India – a nation that ranks close to the bottom on all key measures of liberty.
22nd February 2017
Some people are raising issues about this name. Happy to hear your view.
22nd February 2017
The issue of NOTA has surfaced again (see this). My response to some comments that I’ve received:
1. If the voter has right to cast positive vote, why he shouldn’t have right to cast negative vote that will be counted and make effect on the election result? One way traffic, the way at present we have, is against principles of the democracy. If one has right to chose he should also have right to reject.
The idea of democracy needs to be considered in the context of first principles. Why do we need a democracy in the first place? A democracy is merely one of many ways to get a government. The key point is to get a government that we can change if we don’t like it. ?But the first step is to GET a government. Any democratic system that does not generate a government is fundamentally pointless.
Second, to test the validity of any assertion/proposition, we need to test the extreme case. That will show us its robustness and therefore, validity.
What would happen if all people of India voted for NOTA in all constituencies? And not once, but for ever? If that outcome is desirable, then we should have NOTA, else not.
2. There is no check over political parties while they chose their contestant candidates. They often are criminals, corrupt, black money hoarders or family politicians. Voter has no say in that selection process. There is no threat to the parties for they are sure some or other certainly will win. If NOTA is effective, they will have to become very careful while declaring their candidates.
This assumes that the citizen is forbidden from starting a good political party to contest against the corrupt ones.
There is no such barrier in India, as is clearly proven by ECI’s registration of SBP.
3. It does not make us democratic because we can vote once in five years and become mute spectators till the next election. Our democracy of feudal lords is an outcome of the major flaw in our election system. Voter is powerless and almost taken for granted element in the overall process.
No one is expected to be a mute spectator. By joining SBP they are not a mute spectator.
4. Right to recall is very bad idea and surely will be misused in India.
Unrelated to NOTA.
5. I agree with you that if one doesn’t like any of the candidates he himself should contest. Yes, but the idea is impracticable and ineffective for it doesn’t matter how many candidates contest, after all it is not going to make any major impact on the election results.
This is a defeatist approach to democracy and cannot form the basis of any public policy.
6. Educating people or political parties is a long way to go, till then we will be forced to watch mockery of democracy. Small reforms in the system will help till the mass awareness is created and results seen.
NOTA is not a reform but escapism from the hard work required to ensure good governance.
7. How to ban those leaders who are most corrupt, immoral and criminal from contesting one after other election? It can be argued that in democracy everyone has right to contest. Yes, but then voters should also have right to reject such people, making them difficult or impossible to contest at least one election. Isn’t this a best democratic way to stop or al the least limit the criminalization of our politics?
“How to ban those leaders who are most corrupt, immoral and criminal “. – SBP’s policies will ensure that.
8. With present system, voter is not a king but mere a pawn of the system for he has either limited or no choice but just to vote, forget and repent.
The citizen is KING in a democracy, and by escapism nothing can be solved. The citizen can’t forfeit responsibility and pretend to have achieved something. This is the language of defeatism, not of responsible citizenship.
9. Why there should be ineffective NOTA button on EVM’s if they are not going to make any effect? This is cheating in a way if thought carefully. Every vote, negative or positive should count or just remove negative vote button! Why waste space?
Yes, the NOTA button is pure nonsense and should be removed.
10. Voter has to be empowered. One way traffic no longer should remain in the system. Making NOTA effective is one small reform that we should pursue.
The voter is ALREADY empowered – as citizen of India. If he becomes a defeatist and doesn’t act responsibly, that’s HIS problem. No, NOTA is not reform but running away from reality and the hard work required to fix things.
Further, not every voter who finds none of the contestants fit will be willing to contest as he has to deposit money with EC. Your point of voter themselves contesting becomes impractical.
The security deposit for Lok Sabha election is Rs. 25,000/- while for an Assembly election it’s Rs. 10,000/-. It is ridiculous to suggest that people can’t afford this to save democracy.
Further, if they can’t afford it, they can join a party and get a party ticket. Good people can join SBP and SBP will raise such funds.
22nd February 2017
It is extraordinarily easy to point fingers at problems, extraordinarily difficult to do even the smallest thing about them.
A lot of “liberals” and “academics” spend their life in elitist and remote criticism, as if they are spectators and as if the world is in any way beholden to their views.
Let them try to create even the smallest organisation of men to address the problems they rail about. Getting teams of men together is so hard, most people will fall flat on their face at their first attempt. And yet, only through organisation can any real change occur.
Note that you will fail if you try to change India’s misgovernance alone, on your own. But if you work in a team and multiply intellectual and financial resources, you will succeed.
Sadly, I have heard one alleged “liberal” tell me that liberals do not unite. They work alone. Well, in that case they are merely going to end up licking the boots of socialists or corrupt police/ bureaucrats.
The socialists totally transformed the culture of numerous countries through organisation. The liberals have no choice but to unite.
Join SBP or leave, go away. That’s my simple message to all my friends (and relatives) from India.
I have no intention to keep listening to your whingeing about India. If you are THAT STUPID that you can’t understand this, you DESERVE your fate.
And let me tell you – when you join SBP, don’t come in with the view that only your ideas have to work. You will need to learn to work in a team and let the best ideas evolve through discussion and experimentation.
Yes, it is hard. But if you avoid this on whatever pretext, you DESERVE to be trampled upon by the socialists.
19th February 2017
(A bit of background first.)
Yesterday I expressed some frustration with Indians who purportedly want liberty but have sworn to abjure the political process (or worse – to lick the boots of socialist parties and foreign agencies to fund their fake liberal efforts).
Liberty is is a political concept. To imagine that liberty is about think-tanks or writing articles/ books reflects a gross misunderstanding about the concept of liberty. There is no way to ensure liberty but to be in the political fray. It is about directly connecting with the people in their daily lives.
Till Swarna Bharat Party was launched in June 2013, India never had a genuine liberal party. But now there is such a party. At this point, in early 2017, I have a clear position on this: if you don’t join or directly support SBP, you are illiberal – since you are effectively supporting the opponents of SBP, the enemies of liberty.
Many of the “liberals” who engaged with me over the past around 20 years were fundamentally pseudo-liberal. For instance, most of those who participated in the 2004 five-day workshop I had organised went on to support – and I count meeting corrupt socialist party leaders to seek funds as support, as well – hardcore socialist Congress or BJP.
Some of them even made a song and dance about the need of a liberal party (e.g. Parth’s 2002 article) but did next to nothing about it – and in fact have actively kept away from any such work for well over a decade. Many of those who (much later) joined the Freedom Team of India, swearing to fight for liberty politically, likewise turned out to be limp liberals (those who do not engage in politics) or worse – direct supporters of BJP or AAP.
There is one liberal, however, whose position was unambiguous in the past but has probably become a bit unclear over the past few years: Gurcharan Das, whom I hold in the highest esteem. I’m writing this open letter to him with a request to clarify his position.
Why open, why not in private? I think some matters need to be deliberated publicly, and this is one of them.
OPEN LETTER TO GURCHARAN DAS
As you are aware, in 2013, after a series of implausible events, a group of liberals formed the Swarna Bharat Party. Prompting this was the December 2012 agreement with Ramdev to form a party under the logo of sone ki chidiya and the ideology and manifesto whose drafting I had led since 1998. Implausible as it sounds now, the agreement was that this party would be driven by me and the liberals. I would also lead the team of trainers of the party – we would coach the candidates of the party in liberalism and ethical leadership.
This agreement to form the new party continued well into April 2013 when I led a 4-day national reform summit at Patanjali in the big hall where Ramdev holds his public sessions and talks. Ramdev’s team put out many videos about me on his TV channels during late 2012, well into 2013. I also shared the platform with him on major events whenever we were together, such as at Jantar Mantar in December 2012 to protest the killing of Nirbhaya.
It was only when the day that had been scheduled for the launch of the party came closer that Ramdev backed out. Last year I came to know that Ramdev had been threatened with severe consequences by Ram Jethmalani. Ramdev backed out because he is dishonest to the core. His empire is made out of straw with significant violations of the law and he has amassed significant amounts of black money. Had Ramdev been honest, he could never have been blackmailed by BJP.
Now, you became personally aware about my work to have a liberal party established in India -from around 2000, when we first met. I had started this work in February 1998.
Till mid-2013 I had no doubt about your commitment to having such a liberal party for India. For instance, you joined Sharad Joshi’s Swatantra Bharat Party as national executive member in 2004 as part of my efforts in 2003 and 2004. You also helped raise funds (around Rs. 4-5 lakhs, including from your friends) for the Swatantra Bharat Party.
When Swatantra Bharat Party didn’t work out I proposed the Liberal Party of India in mid-2005. You were one of the first charter members. Nothing came out of that effort, however, which died a premature death within a few months.
Later, in 2007-08 you asked Indians to read the book that I had written (started in early 2005 to support Swatantra Bharat Party), Breaking Free of Nehru, in which I explain how a liberal party could be formed if we are able to find sufficient leaders.
I’m grateful to your support for my limited efforts since you came to know about me.
Your personal search for a liberal party continued, regardless of various failed attempts by liberals. For instance, in 2012 you published India Grows at Night in which you made a strong case for a liberal party for India. You wrote:
I advocate the setting up of a secular, liberal political party in India. Now that the middle class is growing rapidly and none of the existing parties addresses its needs; the timing is also right as the nation’s centre of gravity has shifted to the right. Such a party is needed to transform India into a strong, liberal state.
In 27 January 2013, a few weeks after I had personally briefed you about my work with Ramdev and the decision to form a liberal party, you wrote this in Times of India: An aspiring young India needs a new liberal party. In particular, you wrote:
A young aspiring, secular India needs a new liberal party of the 21st century which trusts markets rather than officials for economic outcomes, and relentlessly focuses on the reform of the institutions of governance. Only thus, will the country begin to move away from crony capitalism and towards rules-based capitalism. It may not win votes quickly but it will bring governance reform to centre stage and gradually prove to voters that open markets and rules-based government are the only civilized ways to lift living standards and achieve shared prosperity.
On 1 June 2013, we launched Swarna Bharat Party without the participation of Ramdev. This has turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Ramdev would have weighed heavily on the party given his association with black money and corruption.
On 16 June 2014, the Election Commission registered Swarna Bharat Party. Although we are obliged to swear allegiance to socialism due to legal requirements that derive from the Indian Constitution, we have the most liberal manifesto possible. It is comparable to other high quality manifestos from across the world.
In a 4-day meeting held in Delhi in July 2014 (which you also attended briefly, but by then you had started supporting Modi) I made clear to participants that we had the option to scrap SBP and merge with any other sensible alternative. However, the assembled group decided that SBP must go ahead. No other party (Navbharat, Swatantra Bharat, Lok Satta or another nascent effort called Bharatam) came even close to SBP in terms of its objectives, approach, and sophistication of the manifesto.
On 26 January 2016, SBP launched its new website and added a payment gateway in April 2016. We actively started working on the ground since late 2015 and have by now made incremental progress in various parts of India. Swarna Bharat Party is now a seriously growing liberal party. We are actively considering contesting a few parliamentary seats in 2019.
I am writing all this to remind you about your support for my work and your commitment to a liberal party for India – till around 2013-14.
But somewhere during that period you deviated from the straight and narrow – since Modi came on the scene. You have been extremely solicitous about Modi, and have effectively exonerated him of his many crimes and the destruction of the law and order machinery in Gujarat. You have personally met him on numerous occasions.
But actually, there has been no change to anything substantive in India over the past 70 years, and definitely not with the advent of Modi.
Objective data suggest that liberty in India has gone backwards since Modi came on the scene (see this). And the reckless manner in which demonetisation was implemented has laid bare the plans and livelihoods of millions of people. I personally know of a number of persons whose businesses have suffered grievously from the ill-thought out consequences of this policy.
My question for you at this stage is this: what makes you think that Modi will do anything liberal when BJP’s manifesto and all antecedents of Modi and BJP directly contradict such an expectation? Further, have you now formed a clear view that BJP will suffice for India and that no liberal party is needed now or in the future?
Between 2004 and 2017 nothing has really changed in terms of the logic for a liberal party. Modi’s presence has not changed anything, as nearly three years of dismal performance attest.
I know you believe that political action is about what it’s practicable, or as you say, “politics is the art of the possible”. And I have no doubt that politics is the art of the possible. But I also believe that what is possible is determined by human action and is not something given to us in stone.
I do not accept the reality of India and am determined to participate in a process to change it. I am determined to make a new future for India possible. Politics may well be the art of the possible, but leadership is about making a new future possible. No progress has ever taken place without leaders who make new things happen.
As a liberal, I am foundationally – by the logic of liberalism – a leader, not a follower. I think for myself and, in particular, I do not believe in following failure. As Einstein said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. India can’t keep doing socialism and expect different results. I do not accept even an iota of the socialist ideology. BJP and Modi are arch socialists and I have nothing to do with them. I am determined to change the Nehruvian demand for socialism in India.
Since February 1998 I have acted upon my belief that India needs a liberal party. I have been supporting people like Anil Sharma (whom you referred to me) in their similar quest. When I came to the view that India needs a liberal party I did not know anything about any antecedent efforts or anyone in India who had ever thought on similar lines. I decided what I needed to do and started working on it. That’s what leaders do, they don’t wait to act on matters that are of essential importance to them. I also resigned my job in the IAS so I could create the freedom and space to pursue the political option.
What I now find intriguing is why, since 2014, you have chosen to repose so much faith in the BJP and Modi. You should have known that these organisations have a foundational DNA that is illiberal. The RSS is not going to become something different no matter what you may otherwise wish. Regardless of whether Modi had a hand in the massacre of hundreds of innocents in 2002, Modi was a member of this illiberal outfit and is a Hindutva fanatic to the core. On top of that, his manifesto and policies continue to be as socialistic as that of his predecessors.
I therefore invite you to clarify your position publicly. And if you are still a liberal and believe India needs a liberal party, I invite you to join Swarna Bharat Party and “put your money where your mouth is” (please note that this is not a request for any money – although that is something that all parties need in order to grow; this is a request for you to join the party – it costs a mere Rs.100 to become a life member).
I believe you need to choose and make publicly clear where you stand. India now has a real and functional liberal party, howsoever small. No doubt should remain in anyone’s mind about which side you are on – given that SBP is no longer a thought bubble but a party with real roots on the ground.
If you join SBP, it will send a strong signal to everyone in India (and the world) that India cannot succeed with Modi/BJP. Today, a lot of people across the world are confused. They think Modi can change India. He can’t – that’s something that’s been crystal clear to me since the very beginning. If I had thought that BJP had the capacity to change India, I’d have joined it in 2000 itself and never left India. I was very close to (the late) Ashok Saikia, a right hand man of Vajpayee, and could have easily obtained a key role in BJP decades ago – if I had wanted such a role. But BJP is not – and was never – the answer for India.
As a thought leader, you can clarify these matters to the world.
The position you take on this will also become your legacy.
ADDENDUM 25 FEBRUARY 2017
Gurcharan had first made the case for a liberal party in 2002, here.