12th December 2010
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.