Thoughts on economics and liberty

The Swatantra Party – Victory in Defeat

Many years ago I had made some notes about why Swatantra Party failed (it only got 44 seats in the Parliament), based primarily on Col. H.R.Pasricha’s book, The Swatantra Party – Victory in Defeat. These notes were first published in 2003 by the India Policy Institute as part of a strategy pack for a 2004 workshop, and later in Towards a Great India 15 September 2009.  (To understand these notes better, please read the book.)

Lesson No.1 : Liberals are no different to other human beings, and we should be humble and accept our individual limitations

Gandhi too had many preconceived notions; the one difference was that he had less of them than others and was willing to continuously learn. He wrote in Community Service News, September — October, 1946, "I have great concern about introducing machine industry. The machine produces too much too fast, and brings with it a sort of economic system which I cannot grasp. … as we grow in understanding, if we feel the need of machines, will certainly have them. … we shall introduce machines if and when we need them." He kept saying that he was a seeker for the Truth and was happy to be corrected. Obviously one man can only learn so much in one lifetime so we can understand why he could not understand the capitalist system of Adam Smith. If he could find the time to understand it, he would have surely changed his views.  
Liberals will need to build a political organisation that is based entirely on rigorous thinking, and complete equality.  
Lesson No. 2: Never tolerate a person on the Executive Council who does not challenge any view that the person does not agree with. Just because someone says so, does not make a thing true. Even Masani made such an appeal, that eventually destroyed the party. At page 79 Pasricha says, "Mariswamy, the general secretary of the Madras party, was arguing against the alliance [Grand Alliance of 1971] fairly cogently, when Masani interrupted with the remark that Rajaji was in favour of the alliance. A sudden, dramatic change came over Mariswamy. He stopped in midstream and abjectly announced that he withdrew his remarks unreservedly and totally. It struck me as extremely peculiar that the leader of the National Executive level should so abjectly withdraw his considered opinion merely at the mention of Rajaji's opinion. This is a small illustration of the type of leadership the Swatantra party was able to scrounge. Subservience to autocratic "rule", real or perceived, is a more natural state of man than democracy, particularly in India.  Never accept a sheep or 'yes men'.
Lesson 3: Nip the evil in the bud
At page 130, Pasricha talks of Masani being "fed up with the state of indiscipline in the party." At page 36, Pasricha points out how the Jan Sangh nipped in the bud any deviationist by expelling him from the party. People who discriminate against women, Harijans, Muslims, etc., etc., need to be blocked at the doorstep, but if they manage to infiltrate, they need to be expelled at the first opportunity. 
Lesson 4: Build party workers
Nobody in the party seemed to be bothered about building a set of workers who would proselytise. Apostles were in very short supply. A corps of trained, devoted workers, functioning under the direct control of a centre, could have sown the gospel far and wide and counteracted the prevailing socialistic rhetoric." "No attempt was made to formulate a detailed scheme for the training of cadres." (p.115) The party clearly did not have a strategy for the long-term. It was dependent on Rajaji in more ways than one.
Lesson 5: Do not contest elections until fully ready
Repeatedly, Pasricha shows the ill-judged keenness of state leaders as well as National leaders to contest elections well beyond the capacity of the party to organise. Resources need to be spent strategically and very prudently. Recklessness and haste can only destroy. That is one more reason to have ‘big picture’ strategy to be continuously reviewed.
Lesson 6: Never consort with parties the do not have the same principles
The moment the party compromises its fundamental principles, it is as good as dead. We are liberals. We do not provide Indian citizens with a hodge podge of policies – strictly liberal only.
Lesson 7: Ensure rigorous audit of the party
Tendency of state units to be highly factionalised, based on feudal or caste principles. All the demerits of existing political parties began to rapidly emerge in the State units of the Swatantra party including financial irregularities. A rigorous audit of party membership, funds, processes, etc., is essential for the party to not deteriorate "around the fringes".
Lesson 8 : Place a significant membership fee
By putting a low membership fee, wealthier individuals with political ambitions are able to enroll a significant number of dumb followers by paying for their fees.  
Lesson 9: The importance of allowing joint stock companies to fund political parties.
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6 thoughts on “The Swatantra Party – Victory in Defeat
  1. Sourabh

    Do not contest elections until fully ready
    -I disagree please consider the example of the bsp and how it spreads by contesting every election everywhere

  2. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    BSP started in 1984 after years of work by Kanshi Ram. Then too it is merely one minor voice in India. Nearly 30 years and no parliamentary majority. That doesn’t interest me.

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