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The Freedom Team of India is not for everyone

Each month the Freedom Team of India receives a handful of applications for membership. Despite that FTI only has a little over 100 members so far, out of which not everyone is active. This is far less than what is needed to offer India a viable political alternative in 2014.

In addition, there is some turnover. Around two members formally resign their FTI membership each year. This loss, howsoever small, should give pause to FTI to ask: Why do people leave FTI, – particularly those who have participated in the discussions and debates, and contributed to a range of FTI efforts?

In my view there have been essentially three reasons why people have left FTI so far. Without naming anyone, let me summarise the reasons below. This will show that FTI is not for everyone. The standards of citizenship, openness, and collaboration required to be an FTI member are extremely high.

(Disclaimer: Before going further let me make clear that the following cases are generalisations and extrapolations, hence do not aim to precisely represent any real individual. While not entirely fictitious, these three cases should be considered as 'markers' for three potential categories: not a precise summarisation of any particular individual's opinions. )

1) Some are aggressive and impatient, and cannot debate issues

There are a few who want things done their way (for instance on some technical matter) and are shocked by dissenting voices or questions being asked of them. They leave FTI in a huff. Indeed, one of India’s well known IT “activist” (if one can use this word) found the idea of discussion quite difficult to stomach, and left FTI promptly after joining. Such people with potentially good ideas but who don’t have the patience to persuade others on the team, are not suited for FTI. 

2) Some want to impose their religious views on society

There have been a couple of instances where FTI members with extremely strong views on religious matters have wanted to impose their views on society, and when FTI members were not supportive of that, left FTI. 

Consider the matter of Hindutva. I personally hold a dim view about this concept (as often practised) which I blame (equally with fanatic Islam and geopolitical gaming by the British) for precipitating India's partition. I have explained the detailed reasons in my draft manuscript DOF. I've also collected extensive material re: RSS through a quick scan of the academic literature, and published on my blog

In my (personal) view, the Hindutva concept mixes the state with religion. BJP is therefore unsuitable to govern India because (among other things) it takes recourse to this ideology which is incompatible with freedom. Of course, BJP is not the only political party in India that mixes religion with the state.

But both Hindutva and RSS mean different things to different people. Some FTI members believe that RSS is a social service organisation. However, such members continue on FTI because they are not fanatic about their ideas and are open to a discussion that leads to the truth. Indeed, my views overlap with a moderate approach to the underlying idea of Hindutva, for India does have a fundamental character that is unique amongst all world civilisations. This fundamental character is based on the concept of tolerance and open-mindedness. The idea of Hindutva, however, as commonly used in political discourse, demeans this beautiful civilising idea that first arose in India, and narrows Indian civilisation to a particular view about a particular religion. India's is a vision of the globally peaceful state, a vision of our shared humanity, a vision for liberty, a vision for the truth. Let's not diminish this vision through narrow ideas that impose particular religious views on others. 

We have resolved this matter by agreeing that no FTI member will be affiliated with any organisation that partakes of violent activities. This is the only open-minded approach to take. Let the truth prevail. So long as RSS remains non-violent, its members can join FTI. The moment it reverts to its reputation for violence, such FTI members – who are members of RSS (there are none at the moment) – would have broken their commitment and will need to leave.

I continue to hold the right to publicly oppose the Hindutva concept equally as others on FTI continue to hold the right to support it – so long as they don't start imposing religious views (e.g. bans on cow slaughter or bans on proselytisation) on the rest of society (noting that there are differing views on these matters among the great proponents of Hinduism itself) . If that happens, India will get further divided and become further illiberal. India can then never claim to be a place that discovered tolerance. Thus, FTI members can talk against cow slaughter (and should, if they believe it is something to be avoided) and persuade others against it, but they can’t support government policy or legislation on this matter.

If religion is allowed by FTI to intervene in matters of governance or social policy, there will remain little to distinguish a Taliban or Iran dictator from an FTI member. It is fortunate that those FTI members who are religious fanatics and have little understanding of the concept of freedom tend to leave FTI. And indeed they must. Classical liberalism is based entirely on the concept of LIBERTY, of freedom of thought and belief – and liberty cannot be ensured if the state imposes the will of a few (or even of the majority) on the others. Indeed, Vivekanda himself reminded us clearly: "Liberty in thought and action is the only condition of life, growth and well-being: Where it does not exist, the man, the race, and the nation must go down".

3) Some want to impose non-religious views on society

Just as it is inappropriate to impose one’s religious views on the society, it is inappropriate to impose one’s non-religious views. One of FTI's members found it difficult to co-exist with those who hold strong religious beliefs (but are willing to not impose them on society). He effectively wanted everyone to forego their religious beliefs. Classical liberalism does not dispute religious belief. It only disputes the imposition of belief (or non-belief) on others using the instruments of the state. Hence that member left, and so he should have.

FTI members who are inactive

In addition to those who have left FTI there are those who have faded away. Such members receive all FTI communication but rarely participate in any discussion or activity. I have a feeling that some of these members have found themselves to be in one or more of the three categories outlined above, and are unwilling or incapable of debating the issues and resolving the matter collaboratively. Such members need to put more focus on working in teams, and persuading others about their views. That is never easy, but that is precisely why India has suffered so far – because of the inability of its educated people to work together. 

It is not just good people that India needs, but those who understand the concept of liberty (with accountability) and are willing to work as members of a team to resolve their differences.

If you can rise to the challenge of being a citizen-leader then please step forward to join FTI.

I also invite those who have left FTI to reflect on why they did so, to then consider the needs of India and the demands of freedom, and to then re-apply to join. I'm sure they will gladly be welcomed back with open arms. 

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11 thoughts on “The Freedom Team of India is not for everyone
  1. Harsh Vora

    Sanjeev — Along with BFN, I've been reading Swami Vivekananda's writings these days. Specifically, I recently read his book 'India and Her Problems'. What I have discovered seems to be in stark contrast to what you have been knowing Vivekananda to stand for. Vivekananda was far from being a liberal. While his the quote you mentioned above hints to a liberal hand, Vivekananda actually seemed to propagate Socialism. Even though he used the word 'liberty' quite often, he used it in a loose sense, not knowing what the actual meaning of the word means and the concepts it entails. 
     
    He was clearly against the state being kept separate from religion. According to him, the state should be strongly run by religious principles. I would not consider such support of religion as Hindutva, because his concept of Hinduism was far different and pure. Although he wanted India to get rid of discrimination and caste system, he chose to do so because that's what Hinduism, according to him, originally represented. I would suggest that you read this book (which is fairly short) available for free online.
     
    I have come to realize that it will be very difficult for India to adopt the policies of freedom as far as people continue to follow the true Vedic injunctions. Cow slaughter is just one issue. Many other issues in Hinduism require that the state be mixed with religion. The reason, I believe, is that Hinduism didn't start out as a religion. It was a culture and a part of this culture was politics as well. Therefore, you will find that the texts (and saints) of so-called "Hinduism" seemed to guide the kings on how to govern the state.
     
    Along those lines, I have one question: For the purpose of this question, let's assume that the Vedas do oppose cow slaughter and ask the king (government in modern era) to put a ban on it. This being the case, what should people do? Following the principles of freedom would entail un-following the injunctions if their scriptures. Therefore, either they can choose to follow religion, or they can choose to follow Classical liberalism.  Both cannot be followed at the same time. As you can see, I'm pointing to a far deeper problem — one that perhaps America, Britain, or Australia didn't face.
     

     
  2. Harsh Vora

    Sanjeev — Along with BFN, I've been reading Swami Vivekananda's writings these days. Specifically, I recently read his book 'India and Her Problems'. What I have discovered seems to be in stark contrast to what you have been knowing Vivekananda to stand for. Vivekananda was far from being a liberal. While his the quote you mentioned above hints to a liberal hand, Vivekananda actually seemed to propagate Socialism. Even though he used the word 'liberty' quite often, he used it in a loose sense, not knowing what the actual meaning of the word means and the concepts it entails. 
     
    He was clearly against the state being kept separate from religion. According to him, the state should be strongly run by religious principles. I would not consider such support of religion as Hindutva, because his concept of Hinduism was far different and pure. Although he wanted India to get rid of discrimination and caste system, he chose to do so because that's what Hinduism, according to him, originally represented. I would suggest that you read this book (which is fairly short) available for free online.
     
    I have come to realize that it will be very difficult for India to adopt the policies of freedom as far as people continue to follow the true Vedic injunctions. Cow slaughter is just one issue. Many other issues in Hinduism require that the state be mixed with religion. The reason, I believe, is that Hinduism didn't start out as a religion. It was a culture and a part of this culture was politics as well. Therefore, you will find that the texts (and saints) of so-called "Hinduism" seemed to guide the kings on how to govern the state.
     
    Along those lines, I have one question: For the purpose of this question, let's assume that the Vedas do oppose cow slaughter and ask the king (government in modern era) to put a ban on it. This being the case, what should people do? Following the principles of freedom would entail un-following the injunctions if their scriptures. Therefore, either they can choose to follow religion, or they can choose to follow Classical liberalism.  Both cannot be followed at the same time. As you can see, I'm pointing to a far deeper problem — one that perhaps America, Britain, or Australia didn't face.
     

     
  3. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Harsh

    Thanks for this information. I’m fully aware that Vivekananda is not a classical liberal, nor was Tilak, nor Gandhi. After Raja Ram Mohun Roy the next great classical liberal of India was perhaps Gokhle.

    However, Vivekananda, Tilak and Gandhi were not socialists either, in the sense that Nehru understood socialism or Marx or Lenin understood it. They were far more liberal than Nehru, for instance.

    Recall that even Christianity for over a thousand years totally mixed religion with the state. Only after massive internecine killings of Christians by Christians did they finally learn the lesson of tolerance.

    What they learnt was this: that people have different views on almost everything, and that it is improper to force one’s views on others. That was a crucial lesson.

    And while I understand your interpretation about Vivekananda, he was actually not too far from that view. His appreciation of the history of freedom was not casual. He did know a lot about American and French history, and his appreciation of the American revolution (that was almost entirely founded on John Locke’s principles of natural liberty) was genuine. To him the religious intervention in the state must be at the level of moral principles. That is something I don’t deny. I admit that religious morals are ONE of the inputs to laws in a society. However, these laws must be mindful that they do not impose unnecessary restrictions on others.

    We do have broadly a classical liberal constitution. Indians understand freedom of expression and religious freedom. They are not the fanatics that some people (of various religions) are. They will accept the idea that one should order one’s life using one’s religious precepts (e.g. that one must not eat beef, although it is an open question whether that is indeed a religious precept or a mixing of a certain religion with the ideas of another), without requiring the state to prohibit all other ways of living.

    In my mind, the foundation of Indian culture is tolerance. That is something quite different to what the Christian nations faced (it was the most intolerant religion in history). We should build upon this tolerance and encourage freedom of thought. Indian history is replete with extensive examples of freedom of thought. That too, is a great Indian tradition.

    Thus, there is no tussle between the Vedic approaches (as interpreted today) and classical liberalism. FTI members are welcome to advocate their views of the world so long as they let others provide their interpretations.

    Regards
    Sanjeev

     
  4. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Harsh

    Thanks for this information. I’m fully aware that Vivekananda is not a classical liberal, nor was Tilak, nor Gandhi. After Raja Ram Mohun Roy the next great classical liberal of India was perhaps Gokhle.

    However, Vivekananda, Tilak and Gandhi were not socialists either, in the sense that Nehru understood socialism or Marx or Lenin understood it. They were far more liberal than Nehru, for instance.

    Recall that even Christianity for over a thousand years totally mixed religion with the state. Only after massive internecine killings of Christians by Christians did they finally learn the lesson of tolerance.

    What they learnt was this: that people have different views on almost everything, and that it is improper to force one’s views on others. That was a crucial lesson.

    And while I understand your interpretation about Vivekananda, he was actually not too far from that view. His appreciation of the history of freedom was not casual. He did know a lot about American and French history, and his appreciation of the American revolution (that was almost entirely founded on John Locke’s principles of natural liberty) was genuine. To him the religious intervention in the state must be at the level of moral principles. That is something I don’t deny. I admit that religious morals are ONE of the inputs to laws in a society. However, these laws must be mindful that they do not impose unnecessary restrictions on others.

    We do have broadly a classical liberal constitution. Indians understand freedom of expression and religious freedom. They are not the fanatics that some people (of various religions) are. They will accept the idea that one should order one’s life using one’s religious precepts (e.g. that one must not eat beef, although it is an open question whether that is indeed a religious precept or a mixing of a certain religion with the ideas of another), without requiring the state to prohibit all other ways of living.

    In my mind, the foundation of Indian culture is tolerance. That is something quite different to what the Christian nations faced (it was the most intolerant religion in history). We should build upon this tolerance and encourage freedom of thought. Indian history is replete with extensive examples of freedom of thought. That too, is a great Indian tradition.

    Thus, there is no tussle between the Vedic approaches (as interpreted today) and classical liberalism. FTI members are welcome to advocate their views of the world so long as they let others provide their interpretations.

    Regards
    Sanjeev

     
  5. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Before I forget, Harsh, please examine Vivekananda's views on proselytisation. They are 100% classical liberal. He doesn't like Christian missionaries coming to India, but does not oppose them. Details in DOF (draft). Unlike Gandhi who is confused on this issue.

    Yes, he may talk about socialism, but his is not the socialism that destroys liberty.

     
  6. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Before I forget, Harsh, please examine Vivekananda's views on proselytisation. They are 100% classical liberal. He doesn't like Christian missionaries coming to India, but does not oppose them. Details in DOF (draft). Unlike Gandhi who is confused on this issue.

    Yes, he may talk about socialism, but his is not the socialism that destroys liberty.

     
  7. ramesh

    Dear Sabhlok,
    Perhaps, solution to the above problem seems to be very rare. One clue I know, for sure, is the solution to the secret of the universe (pure scientific to the complete exclusion of the religion) and without which DoF; BFN etc will always be subjective and relative. This will make you know who you are and what others are. The moment it is done, all the problems are solved. I once again repeat it is not religion or Adhyatma, it is pure science. Please avoid irritation if you feel the same topic was presented with religious angle from me earlier (that’s your misunderstanding). If you think the subject matter is of individual concern, rest assured the transition (by FTI) which you and rest are hoping, only fate and time can bring it.
    I have been trying to make you the point since the beginning. You are missing so many points. As and when my resources permit I will be discussing the same. I was touched deeply by your above concern, so thought of this reminder.

     
  8. ramesh

    Dear Sabhlok,
    Perhaps, solution to the above problem seems to be very rare. One clue I know, for sure, is the solution to the secret of the universe (pure scientific to the complete exclusion of the religion) and without which DoF; BFN etc will always be subjective and relative. This will make you know who you are and what others are. The moment it is done, all the problems are solved. I once again repeat it is not religion or Adhyatma, it is pure science. Please avoid irritation if you feel the same topic was presented with religious angle from me earlier (that’s your misunderstanding). If you think the subject matter is of individual concern, rest assured the transition (by FTI) which you and rest are hoping, only fate and time can bring it.
    I have been trying to make you the point since the beginning. You are missing so many points. As and when my resources permit I will be discussing the same. I was touched deeply by your above concern, so thought of this reminder.

     
  9. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Thanks Ramesh

    I actually live on a much lower plane than you do, pretty much close to this earth, close to the facts of human behaviour and of scientific analysis of our reality.

    According to you the moment I know who I am (and what others are), all the problems are solved. But I’m simply unable to understand your points. You talk at too high a level. I don’t know how you’d solve any real problem this way.

    Hence why don’t you write a counter-point to BFN (if you wish) and prove the case that all problems (e.g. India’s illiteracy, poverty, corruption and moral decadence) will be resolved through your rather ideas I’m not saying your ideas are irrelevant, but that their power seems to me to be grossly limited. There is great power, instead, in the concept of freedom and good governance. At least that is why my limited capacity of thinking shows me.

    You know that I never agree to anything till I understand it, so you’ll have to do far more to persuade me than simply refer me back again and again to your ideas which I can’t grasp. Bring your ideas down to earth, to a commoner like me.

    Regards
    Sanjeev

     
  10. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Thanks Ramesh

    I actually live on a much lower plane than you do, pretty much close to this earth, close to the facts of human behaviour and of scientific analysis of our reality.

    According to you the moment I know who I am (and what others are), all the problems are solved. But I’m simply unable to understand your points. You talk at too high a level. I don’t know how you’d solve any real problem this way.

    Hence why don’t you write a counter-point to BFN (if you wish) and prove the case that all problems (e.g. India’s illiteracy, poverty, corruption and moral decadence) will be resolved through your rather ideas I’m not saying your ideas are irrelevant, but that their power seems to me to be grossly limited. There is great power, instead, in the concept of freedom and good governance. At least that is why my limited capacity of thinking shows me.

    You know that I never agree to anything till I understand it, so you’ll have to do far more to persuade me than simply refer me back again and again to your ideas which I can’t grasp. Bring your ideas down to earth, to a commoner like me.

    Regards
    Sanjeev

     

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