12th March 2017
In a recent article, Gurcharan Das expressed pessimism about the future of political liberalism in India. There is no doubt that political liberalism faces significant challenges in India. But much of this is because (a) India has hardly had any liberals in the past seventy years, and (b) the few who have existed have not organised to take the message of liberty systematically to the people of India.
Converting ideas into action is always a challenge, particularly where persuading others is involved. And since every situation is different, one can’t expect to find a solution without attempting the challenge. It is all about learning by doing.
When, in February 1998, I took on the challenge of transforming India’s governance, I over-estimated the availability of liberal leaders and under-estimated the vast gulf in understanding between the liberals and the common man in India.
Nearly twenty years later, many experiments and attempts later, I am better placed to recognise the magnitude of the task at hand. The task can be summarised thus: (a) find and build thousands of liberal political leaders, and (b) undo the brainwashing of a billion people.
Not simple, but worth doing.
Why is it worth doing? I have my personal reasons why I want India to succeed. But even from the most abstract perspective, if Indians can achieve their highest potential, there will be a significant surge in the world’s productivity as a billion extra human brains get on to the task of innovation. Surely this is something worth aspiring for?
And if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Let’s do this properly and not take short cuts. In fact, the challenges involved in achieving this task cannot be circumvented. It is not as if one can join the socialists or Hindutvas and expect them to change colour and promote liberty.
We must not forget that our opponents did not get to their dominant position in India (and thereby have destroyed India) by accident but through sustained, albeit misguided, effort over tens of years. Many lifetimes were spent by our opponents in their mistaken attempts.
The challenge posed by our opponents, the enemies of liberty
The RSS (the ideological wing of BJP) took the idea of Hindutva to the people of India for decades before it started having an impact on electoral politics, first with the Jan Sangh, then the BJP.
Socialism got a head start in India through Nehru who had the advantage of being in a position of power for a very long time during which he brainwashed India (I’m not questioning his intentions here). As a result of his influence, he not only persuaded the vast majority of Indians about the “benefits” of socialism but created socialist institutions which have led to the ruinous consequences we see today. To undo the work of Nehru is not a trivial task.
One of the insidious consequences of Nehru’s work has been the destruction of the intellectual capital and capability of India. India has lost three generations of children who did not get even basic education, leave alone any education about liberty.
Further, whatever little education was imparted (by leftist teachers at all levels – in schools, colleges and universities) has led to a brainwashing so complete that the products of this education are incapable of even recognising reality, leave alone making informed choices.
I’m constantly amazed by the unique ability of these brainwashed Indians to deny the most obvious facts. For example, when I share with them information about the low levels of freedom in India in various international comparisons, and not just by one organisation but by a large number of independent organisations, most Indians refuse to even accept this information. And if the data do sink in, they come out with bogus defences, such as India is a very big country. As if that excuses the destruction of freedoms. Any country, regardless of size, will become badly messed up when it adopts collectivist ideologies.
It often feels that one is banging one’s head against a wall.
The ability to deny facts is characteristic of belief systems, where rational thought is consciously excluded. Socialism has become one such belief system which no amount of evidence can budge. This sorry state of affairs is an indictment of the socialist education system which did not teach Indians to think for themselves and understand basic facts.
Program of mass communication
We are born chained to our parent’s beliefs. Liberalism, like religion, socialism or Hindutva, is a learned concept. Liberty, unlike collectivist concepts, is the only idea that helps all humans and fosters innovation and prosperity. But it is not a natural idea. It has to be learned. Further, learning about liberty has much to do with reasoning, which is not the forte of most humans.
To date there has been no consistent and systematic effort in India’s history to show the people of India the benefits of liberty. We have had sporadic initiatives and sporadic writings by a few people like Gurcharan Das but this is insufficient.
We need a program of action to propagate the message of liberty in a systematic manner.
This has to be political, not through think tanks. All over the world political parties have promoted the idea of liberty. Other methods have neither worked nor can work. There is no prospect of India becoming even a remotely free without a liberal party leading the way. Yes, a liberal party’s journey will necessarily be difficult in identity-politics ridden India, but if we put our shoulder to this task, India will respond.
We need a program of mass communication at the grassroots level and in urban India, including in schools and colleges. Without such a mass communication program that (a) shows Indians how bad their situation is, and (b) how they can become so much better off, it will be impossible to fight off socialist and Hindutva indoctrination.
This mass communication program would need to use WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. It would involve brochures and publicity material for grassroots dissemination, in addition to a range of videos. Material would include satire and jokes about socialism. A vast amount of material would need to be generated in order to undo the damage done to the minds of a billion Indians over the past 70 years.
The initial focus will need to be on written material since we do not have ready access to leaders on the ground who can reach out to the people. Slogans, short messages, jokes, flyers and brochures, all branded with the party’s name have to be released in the thousands. At the same time, a team of political leaders needs to be projected in the minds of the people.
Another critical task is to prepare the party’s manifestos for state government elections and for local elections across the country. These would be generic manifestos that would in due course be tailored to the local situation. Liberalism needs to be translated into specifics for the people, and each action properly explained. Manifestos are particularly important for ideological parties.
This task will need a combination of professionalism and voluntarism. There are those who can write well; they should do so. There are others who have limited time but can spare a bit of money. That money can be used to hire professional expertise in communication.
A minimum of two or three years of sustained effort is needed to start seeing even the minimal results. It takes a long time to change the minds of people. Over the course of time, the liberal party will get the capacity to win some seats and ultimately to even form government.
The content of the message
In order to change the mindset of the people they have to be systemically shown why India is in such a bad shape. The most important message will have to be the “why”. Why liberty? Why should Indians care about liberty?
The answer is that liberty benefits the people, their opportunities increase, their choices increase. It is through transactions and trades made in liberty that wealth increases. It is through liberty that people can achieve their potential.
People are not stupid. If you show them something that will benefit them, then there is no reason they would not be persuaded.
It is premature to be pessimistic when we have not even understood the task or designed a strategy to deal with it. We need to put in place a concerted programme of action to take the message to the people of India.
What we have to offer India is so good and so attractive, only total fools will reject it. I believe Indians are not fools, merely ill-educated.
Let’s at least show our wares to the nation. Let’s set up our shop and let the people choose. Let’s give India a chance.