10th February 2017
The struggle of Indian liberals to agree to a common political strategy
In 2000 I organised a meeting of five Indian liberals to consider a political option. That failed since there was no agreement on what should be done.
In 2004 I organised a 5 day meeting of around 25 Indian liberals to thrash out this issue. The topic was “India’s liberal political strategy”. The group decided to support Sharad Joshi’s Swatantra Bharat Party. Swatantra Bharat Party’s manifesto was genuinely liberal. And yet, Swantantra Bharat didn’t work out due to too many fundamental shortcomings – won’t go into detail (I’ve done that elsewhere).
In 2006, JP of Lok Satta the NGO (who enthusiastically prodded Sharad Joshi on, at the January 2004 conference to contest 300 seats but did not want to join at that stage) pulled out a separate political party from his hat, called Lok Satta Party. I had assumed its manifesto would be liberal but in due course I was to find it was essentially social democratic (again, refer to analysis on this blog) – i.e. with significant involvement of government in the affairs of the people. Nevertheless, given the failure of Swantatra Bharat, I thought the liberals should support JP. That ended when JP turned out to be an uncritical supporter of Modi.
Of the other liberals who attended the January 2004 meeting, one (Madhu Kishwar) became a fanatic defender of Modi – claiming that he was innocent in the killings of a 1000 innocent people in Godhra. I watched her later on TV and could not distinguish her from the standard rabid RSS fanatics.
One, Bibek Debroy joined Modi government’s Niti Ayog – and was recently found aggressively claiming that the Modi government is not stupid (in relation to demonetisation). Basically, he’s lost his liberal credentials and independence and effectively become a BJP member.
There were others, as well, at that meeting. Won’t go into details, but not one has actually supported any liberal political effort in their life after that initial enthusiasm of early 2004.
In the meanwhile, allegedly liberal outfits like Bharat Uday Mission, Jago Party and Navbharat Party came on the scene. I supported collaboration with each of these parties, but their manifestos were grievously lacking, and the latter two were merely one man shows. All these parties are now defunct. (Btw, Navbharat was essentially the reclaimed Professional Party- which had not the slightest liberal credentials).
In 2013, through series of freak events, I helped form Swarna Bharat Party. This party got registered in 2014. Having failed to see any genuine liberal leadership from Swatantra Bharat Party, Lok Satta Party, Bharat Uday Mission, Jago Party or Navbharat Party, it was appropriate that we finally had a liberal party that was genuinely liberal – the Swarna Bharat Party.
Since SBP was essentially very weak in 2014, I had supported RK Misra’s Navbharat Party – but Misra not only lost his seat badly, he was no liberal; and there is not the slightest evidence of the party’s existence now.
In the meanwhile, one Prodyut Bora left BJP a couple of years ago and formed the Liberal Democratic Party in Assam. I spoke with him at length last year: he is focused entirely on Assam. In the recent past he is considering the idea of a national liberal party. Unfortunately, his party has no clear manifesto and whatever little exists, is more in the space of social democracy – an interventionist state. Nevertheless, I have some hope from Prodyut Bora.
Well, 19 years after I first resolved that India should have a liberal party, there is effectively ONE such party in existence today – and that is Swarna Bharat Party (SBP).
SBP is an open platform for genuine liberals who can work together in a team.
I will talk more about the struggle (that is ongoing) – in a later post. Now got to go.
JUST ONE POINT, THOUGH: That all the failed efforts had one of the following in common: one-man shows, lack of clarity of ideology, inability to work as a team and foster open debate and discussion that is followed by voting.
My prediction remains this: that any effort apart from Swarna Bharat Party is guaranteed to fail.
SBP will remain the masthead of Indian liberalism well into the future. That, too, is guaranteed, given its approach, style and ideological clarity.