I've been extremely tied down in meeting people (including grassroots leaders) over the past few days, but have found some time, now, to provide a brief update on the 5-day liberal workshop that I convened from 26 to 30 July 2014. You can download the slides from here. The slides were not used at the workshop, being intended as background material.
Day 1: It was decided that Navbhafrat and Swatantra Bharat were not yet ready to consider discussions regarding a possible merger. However, it was decided that Swarna Bharat Party should be activated and over the next six months to one year, a decision could be taken based on the progress made by the three parties. Representatives from Navbharat and Swatantra left either on the first day or on the second day. There was, however, a high level of goodwill between the team, and I am confident that over the next few months, a competitive process (market-based) to detefrmine the most viable liberal party will be found, thereby creating a platform which all liberals can decide to merge into – in due course.
Prior to the workshop I was quite happy to burn the registration papers of Swarna Bharat Party if we had agreed on a common agenda, constitution and code of conduct. I have decided to recommend that SBP bootstrap itself into existence (PAN number/ bank account, etc.). India will now get YET ANOTHER liberal party in India, but I hope this additional administrative cost and burden on the liberals will not be wasted.
Day 2: I had invited a small group of liberal leaders (some not quite liberal – having been involved in AAP) to the workshop. This group was generally compatible with liberal ideas, albeit in a round-about way. Their leader Rajendra Paladugu (a medical doctor) is a good man but extremely aggressive, unable to listen to anyone, always interrupting others. He took around 60 per cent of the "talk-time" on the second day. I was particularly put off by his false statements about me. He alleged that I've written somewhere: "I know everything". Period. These were the precise words he used. This was a deal breaker as far as I'm concerned. I'm one person who knows that I know very little – a small part of human knowledge. I have always insisted that everything I propose is subject to further discussion/ improvement. How can anyone be liberal and yet insist that he/she is the repository of all knowledge?
He also said that I have said, or written: "The free market destroys all evils". Clearly he has not bothered to read the extensive section on regulation in Breaking Free of Nehru, nor the section on regulation in the Sone Ki Chidiya agenda (he clearly said that he had not read the agenda). He also railed against the word liberty and liberal.
I was extremely unwell, as well, being on anti-biotics for a very bad case of laryngitis.
I switched off and as the day progressed, it became clear that members of Rajendra Paladugu's group are quite good, but he himself has some serious work to do if he wishes to be part of any liberal effort.
In particular, I've asked him to:
(a) prove his allegation about what I've written (the specific sequence of three words: "I know everything." Period.). He should feel free to publish any email in which I say so. This falsehood is a permanent deal breaker. I do not tolerate or live with liars; and
(b) take a number of courses in active listening. If he continues to take 60 per cent of the "talk time" in meetings where 20-25 people are present (most people – including members of his team – got no time to speak), interrupts everyone, and radically distorts what someone says or implies (when I told him about what a Muslim MP had said to me, he totally distorted the essence of what I had reported – and started speaking against Muslims in general – this happened during an evening prior to the workshop), he can't possibly be part of any liberal leadership.
Nevertheless, it was decided that FTI would progress discussions with Rajendra Paladugu's team to work out whether there is any common ground. I'm happy for FTI members to discuss further with Rajendra and his team.
Rajendra, however, did NOT take my feedback to him seriously. After the workshop when I reported the summary outcomes to members, Rajendra wrote back: "Sanjeev, can you remove my name from this group , FTI and all other groups that you chair or are part of." First of all, Rajendra is NOT an FTI member, so removing his name from FTI doesn't arise. But I've removed him from the liberal workshop group. From this follow-up response of Rajendra, I do not think Rajendra will do either (a) or (b).
I'm extremely forgiving if people have learnt their lesson/s and apologise. In this case, if Rajendra can't find the statement (a) that he has alleged I've written, he should publicly apologise to me – through a mechanism as widely read as this blog. And, further, he should demonstrate evidence of active listening. At that stage, I'd be most happy to engage further with him.
The second day was an unhappy one for most participants. Anyway, no one is indispensable to India, and we have decided to activate SBP.
Days 3 – 5
Given the under-achievement of the first two days, these were extremely productive days. I was particularly impressed with Rakesh Agarwal who is going to lead the Delhi effort of SBP. We discussed:
- SKC agenda and ways to improve it
- Documents that will be generated to support the agenda
- Customised Delhi agenda (we discussed around 11-12 key issues, with focus on justice.
- SBP constitution – will be revised and re-submitted to ECI. Some elements of the constitution would not apply till a future date (I'll draft a resolution to that effect).
- Code of Conduct for the party will be based on the FTI code of conduct.
- We decided to have a FLAT STRUCTURE, with all members of the executive to be called Senior Leaders. All of them will be entirely equal. Only for specific purposes will a particular individual be selected (purely on merit) to represent the party for a particular task.
- We decided to spend the next five years in prachar – i.e. explaining the liberal message to India.
- We agreed that if a better name can be found, we'll consider renaming the Swarna Bharat Party.
We had a number of guests at the workshop, like Gurcharan Das, Ashok Desai, Sant Gopal Das, and Varun Arya – for short periods of time. Some BJP and AAP leaders also came by to observe/ listen.
Varun pointed out the qualities we must have in order for him to support this work. These qualities match, entirely, the qualities, I have always had in mind for such work – which form the basis of the Freedom Team of India. We will aim to inculcate and embed these qualities in SBP.
India's suffering must continue for some more time, till the liberals can get their act together. This effort (that we kept going till late evening on each day, including the 5th day), demonstrates the urgency and seriousness of the situation. The liberals must not delay a merger.
Despite my disappointment at not achieving the optimal outcome, I will now set my mind to help make SBP a model liberal party.
1) Swarna Bharat Party will have no public-facing office-bearers.
2) SBP will ALWAYS be open and welcoming to all liberals.
3) SBP will build a culture of total transparency and internal meritocracy which should – in due course – attract the best talent in India.
4) SBP will aim to build institutions that can survive forever.
This was a make-or-break workshop for me. At the end of the five days, I still see a ray of hope despite my disappointment. That's why I'm not shutting down my efforts.
Disappointment has been my constant companion since 1998 when I first decided on the political option for reform of India's governance. Indian liberals have always shied from the challenge of reforming India's governance and continue to shy from working together. I have decided to live with disappointment for some more time. Hopefully, by then, the liberals will see sense and come together.
There were some young people on the table, for whose sake I believe I must put in some more work. They deserve a chance to show they mean business.
Let me reiterate: we can NEVER reform India's governance if we continue to operate multiple political parties. This is a no brainer.
On a personal note, it is now too late for me to resume Indian citizenship. Despite my repeated offers to India since 1998, India was never ready for change. The last remaining window of opportunity has passed.
Given my commitment to support the people I met at the workshop I will support SBP and FTI for some more years. But only if they show an ability to work together and systematically.
When Indian liberals do – finally – merge into a SINGLE liberal party that (in my view) is designed to survive forever, I will revert to the pursuit of science, painting and nature.
Join me in supporting Swarna Bharat Party. If you are interested, please write to me at email@example.com. We have much work to do, to build systems which allow the party to grow over the coming century.