Thoughts on economics and liberty

Jago Party – time to hit the rewind button

Thanks to a friend from Hyderabad, I recently received a copy of the 27 November 2010 advertisement by Jago Party on in The Hindu (see image below). Such things cost quite a bit of money but Jago Party President, Deepak Mittal has deep pockets and has spent considerable amount of money into this party (Btw, I'd like to suggest that Jago party accounts, including its sources of funds, be published in a prominent place on its website).

Jago Party was started in August 2007, i.e. 2 months before Lok Satta party (LS) and 4 months before the Freedom Team (which, though, is not a political party). It "was registered with the Election Commission in January 2008. Contested 27 assembly & 18 LS elections so far in Rajasthan, Bihar, Mumbai, Haryana etc." However, it lost all of them – quite badly.

Read on below this Jago advertisement for my initial review of the Party.

[Click to see a larger image.]

Is Jago Party liberal?

From its mission Jago appears to be a broadly liberal party, somewhat on the lines of Lok Satta. Thus it says that: "every person must be given maximum freedom & opportunity to grow, prosper and pursue his/her self-interest so long as he or she does not encroach upon the freedom of others. This freedom would include the freedom to produce and buy/sell a product at mutually agreed price. This freedom would also include the freedom to earn & own wealth without limitations, to form associations, to think and express ideas freely, to believe in any religion or no religion, to adopt any style of living, to settle anywhere in the country and so on. This freedom is the foundation of democracy, secularism and free market economy."

One could quibble a bit with this, but this is broadly on the right track. Does this then make Jago a genuinely classical liberal outfit? I'm not sure on that, for just as LS has a range of populist policies that do not fit with the ideas of freedom, Jago has a range of populist policies that make little sense in the context of a free society. For instance:

a) Policy to provide Rs.800 per month to voters "in lieu of subsidies":

The question one would ask in relation to this policy is: why is EVERYONE entitled to this? What is the theory behind it? Why a flat amount of Rs.800? How does this precise amount arise from the concept of freedom? And what is the mechanism to deliver this amount?

b) Second, a "job for everyone through free English education":

How does everyone get an assured job just because they know some English? And I do hope this is not a "right to work" policy. No doubt English language education is a part of India's problems, but that is not for the government to decide. Parents much choose it. We must empower them.

More importantly are policies of freedom and good governance, such as those I've outlined in BFNJago's policy toolkit is very weak and perhaps ill-grounded on classical liberal concepts. In a way it is, like Lok Satta's, a social liberal project, coupled with confused ideas about how India's governance has to be reformed. Such philosophical and policy confusion means that the forces that want the status quo will overpower Jago and LS even if these do manage to get elected to form government. You can't change things if you don't know what you want to change.

But we can't be picky. Given the desperate shortage of parties that advocate freedom in a country where corrupt socialists dominate, Jago Party is a much needed effort and I commend its leaders for thinking up this idea and implementing it. It is a reasonably good start towards a common goal. Most people in India have simply given up on it. Jago leaders at least want to change things.

Is Jago's strategy viable?

Assuming that its policies can be made more acceptable, is this party now ready for the big stage? We must note the reality that voters have rejected it outright. Unlike LS which at least has one seat, Jago has none. The past is not a predictor of future performance on such matters, but I sense that its strategy is as weak as LS's – and therefore totally insufficient for the task at hand

What is the task that we face?

The task ahead for formations like LS, Jago, Bharat Uday Mission (I note that BUM's website has disappeared!) or Samudai Bharti is mammoth, given the kind of forces at work during elections (money, religious, and goonda power). This is not something to be attempted without much preparation. But no outfit has prepared for the task it wants to achieve.

Three and a half years after its formation, Jago is hardly known to anyone. Google advanced search for "Jago Party" yields 19,600 results compared with 449,000 results for Lok Satta party. Lok Satta also has a much bigger profile through JP and other alternatives keywords, hence its total visibility is likely to be well over 1 million results on the internet. That is 1/10th the visibility of BJP. Not bad in terms of brand development.

The ground visibility is a different matter. I have no ready measure of that but I suspect that LS is MILES AHEAD of Jago. In brief, even though it was formed BEFORE Lok Satta party, Jago Party's visibility is 1/50th of Lok Satta's. Jago's strategy is simply NOT working.

Its leadership woes are severe. On LS's website there is no mention of anyone else but JP. On Jago's website, similarly, there is barely any mention of anyone other than Deepak Mittal. These are both one-man shows. They have a small bunch of dedicated followers ("leaders") as part of the team but if you ask anyone (even party members I think) about the names of second-tier leaders, they will blank out. Brand recognition must be developed for at least 100 top rank leaders for any liberal outfit to actually win parliamentary elections. The voter must have heard about you thousands of times.

Overall, Jago and other outfits like LS have prematurely gone into political party mode – without a sufficient number of high quality leaders, sufficient funds, and sturdy policies to offer the people of India. The people of India have therefore REJECTED THEM and will continue to do so unless they dramatically UPSCALE their efforts. Let none of these parties make the mistake of thinking otherwise. Winning elections in India is not child's play.

My suggestions for Jago Party

I have made similar suggestions to Jago Party in the past, through emails, and that is perhaps one reason why I'm not very popular with at least one of its leaders. I believe in scientific analysis of the actual facts, and in plain speaking once I have done my analysis. If someone doesn't have the ability to listen to the truth then so be it. Don't shoot the messenger is what I'd say!

Whether Jago (and LS, etc) is willing to listen to blunt advice is a test of its leadership mettle. Leaders must ensure SUCCESS, not defeat. Today, the leaders of LS and Jago (and a host of other outfits) have ensured defeat. How long can this go on? 

To me (or to any dispassionate observer) the writing is on the wall for Jago Party. This is the end of the line if it doesn't change its approach. Not only will its funds soon run out, its leadership will rapidly fray and dissipate if it doesn't change gears rapidly and show results. Jago (and LS etc.) leaders should avoid burying their heads in the sand. It doesn't work.

1. Stop wasting money on contesting elections till you are guaranteed to win.

It is a horribly expensive hobby to contest elections only to lose. A party that aims to reform India must contest ONLY when it is ready to win. Jago should contest elections when it can win MORE THAN HALF the seats it contests (and that too, at least 300 parliamentary seats in all, else it is all meaningless, anyway). Till then, prepare. Preparation for battle explains 99% of its success. Only 1% is luck. Today Jago and LS are testing their luck. Elections are not a lottery. Avoid gambling with your money and time.

Mr Mittal, stop wasting your money. I could have done wonders with  even 1/10th of the money you've spent on Jago! Resources must be deployed in the most productive use. Contesting elections is NOT the most productive use at this stage 

2. Focus on finding leaders.

It is very hard to bring competent people together as equals on a team. But that is what has to happen if a liberal political force in India is to form and succeed. We need ALL people who believe in (classical) liberal ideas to come together. 

Unfortunately, Jago can't be such a platform. Why would anyone join Jago when all your "positions" are already filled? (That is the same reason why no one will join LS. By prematurely making the "founder" a "President" you put off anyone who may have otherwise wanted to join with an open mind.) That is why FTI does NOT have any positions. Positions should come in the END. The first thing is to find good leaders. 

3. Focus on finding policy agreement.

By announcing detailed policies you have put off those who differ with these policies (but may agree with your broad mission or goal). It is absolutely crucial that WORLD-BEST policies be identified and promoted by Jago (or any other liberal outfit). Shoddy policy thinking will spell doom at the polls, and indeed, doom for India even if you do manage to get elected.

What are Jago's options?

1. Continue doing what you are doing.

The half-baked preparation that Jago party has displayed so far has failed BADLY and I see no reason why it will succeed in the future. Zero seats in the past, zero seats in the future. So continuing to do what you are doing is not going to work. Jago, you need to change! Jago, wake up!

2. Pause political efforts and start afresh through the Freedom Team.

The second option is for Deepak Mittal and others to press the pause button on Jago and join FTI and work on (a) finding more leaders and (b) gaining agreement on policy and strategy. That means devoting ALL available resources – time and money – to these two tasks, and keeping aside all political efforts till Jago (or whatever party these leaders finally agree to) is ready to launch a SUCCESSFUL national movement. This, in my view, is going to be the most successful strategy, but I'm not sure whether Jago has the leadership vision for such collaborative effort.

3. Merge with Lok Satta

The Jago strategy has led to very poor results so far. Lok Satta has significantly outperformed it despite spending less than 1/10th the money that Jago has spent. So the third option, if Jago leaders are not interested in a systematic approach to reform through FTI, is for Jago to merge with LS.

Now this is not an easy task! How is JP going to accommodate Jago party leadership? I'm not sure he realises how badly he has handicapped himself by creating organisational structures at such an early stage. Would he (or LS party) be willing to have Deepak Mittal as LS "president"?

Let me say that this idea, while interesting, is not going to work.

I therefore suggest that both LS and Jago pause their political efforts and start afresh with FTI (option 2) – assuming that they are serious about what they want to achieve.

If all they want to pretend to be in politics and to waste their time and throw away their money, then of course let them enjoy the defeats that the voter is guaranteed to enforce upon them. By all means enjoy the pretend politics you are engaged in.

I remain interested ONLY in one goal: the total reform of India's governance. Failure is not an option in my plans. Hence the capacity and patience to prepare, for years; even decades if needed.

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