Thoughts on economics and liberty

India, so long as the Freedom Team of India exists there is still hope!

Report on FTI's Second Annual Conference, 2011

The highly successful second annual conference of the Freedom Team of India
When we look at the distressing condition of India’s governance today, let us not forget that there is still some hope. FTI is the harbinger of this hope: a platform for all good leaders of India to come together. As many as 22 out of a little over 100 FTI members spent time and travelled at their own expense from all over India (and abroad) to come together in Delhi on the 19th and 20th of February 2011.
This conference was a great success as can be seen from the members’ comments after the conference:
  • Madhu said his main expectation was to meet members from other cities, and that the conference exceed his expectations. He was especially happy to meet people from smaller towns and hear about their experiences.
  • One of the things which Amit wanted to do was to meet other like minded individuals, and validate their many years of thinking about Samudai Bharati. He was happy with the conference.
  • Dr. N. P. Singh was inspired to find that there are others who are thinking and working on the same lines.
  • Akalpita Ji said that our frequencies had started harmonizing, and we will soon create resonance which will help expedite our cause spread the wave all around – Ab Manzil Door Nahin Hai!
  • Ritesh said that it was a big milestone that FTI held its second annual conference.
  • Vikash found that the conference was well moderated/organized and went on smoothly. He was happy to participate.
  • Piyush said that the conference exceeded his expectations
  • Anil said that the biggest plus for this conference was meeting of FTI with other groups.
  • Kamal said that many of us are on the edge, and meeting each other gives us confidence to carry on and jump in more.
  • Shantanu said that we should not underestimate of the big challenges which lie ahead. He asserted that we need to get more serious and more real and honest about our expectations, pace.
While the number of member of FTI so far seems to be quite small compared to what FTI has been aiming for, one thing is clear – that the quality of FTI members is really high. This was clear in the abundantly clear with the first conference (held in Mumbai in 2010), as well. There is no doubt that many current leaders are really insightful and charismatic.
Many members are taking active steps to enter full time into political activity and continuously think about executing their plans. There is no doubt that India’s future is finally becoming brighter, after six decades of rotten governance by socialists.
And now for some of the details of the conference.
FTI members: Akalpita Paranjpe, Amit Sethi , Anil Sharma, Bhrigu Dutta, Dipinder Sekhon, Ghanshyam Sharma, Kamal Sharma, L K Kandpal, Madhu Shankar, N P Singh, Nikhil Ojha, Piyush Gupta, Prahlad Pandey, Rahul Pandit, Rajesh Kumar, Ram Kumar Atri, Ritesh Shukla, Sanjay Mehrotra, Sanjay Seth, Shantanu Bhagwat, Somnath Bharti, and Swapnil Khandelwal.
In addition, on the second an interaction occurred between FTI members and representatives of various liberal political groups, something like a mini Hope Summit. These included: Jago Party (Mr Surya Prakash Loonker), Bharat Uday Mission (Akalpita Paranjpe and FTI member), Samudai Bharati (Piyush Gupta and FTI member), Loksatta (Alok Kumar Singh) and Indian Nationalist League (Abhishek Rao and Bhrigu Datt).
Unfortunately not many photographs were taken at the conference but two photos of 20 February should suffice to give a flavour of the participants and the venue (click for a larger image):
Review of last year’s activities
On 19 February, the conference began with a welcome and introductions. This was followed by a review of FTI’s activities over the last year. Members shared their experiences including rural outreach, as well as how the various chapters of FTI were operating. The Delhi chapter is the most developed at the moment and it was suggested that this could act as a model for others.
The idea of supporting FTI members to devote their time full-time to this endeavour was discussed but not pursued further, given the complexity of issues (particularly funding) involved. Regarding outreach events it was agreed that these are about networking, in addition to achieving the goal of finding new members. A slogan for outreach efforts in the future was suggested: e.g. Jiyo aur Jinay Do (Or, Live and Let Live).
FTI’s strategy
FTI’s strategy was reviewed and found to be still valid. The idea was still to bring together at least 500 leaders first (who could well be members of many of the newly formed parties), gain alignment through classical liberalism, and then decide a political plan.
It was agreed that there can be no definite timeframe for this task, which is conditional on the availability of sufficient high quality leaders. FTI members would continue to think about 2014, but agreed that 2019 was now looking more realistic. It was also agreed that members would consider details about a direct political action/strategy as and when we get closer to that stage.
Classical liberalism as a core philosophy
The need for liberal politics in India was reviewed, and discussion showed that there was broad unanimity on basic tenets among members, with details to be resolved during discussions on individual policies. The main thing we need is to avoid left leanings: things that have harmed India over the past six decades.One of the members rightly noted that while we need an ideal liberal outlook, we also need to be aware of ground realities.
Open discussion
The fourth session of the first day was an open unstructured discussion. The FTI strategy of gathering leaders first who could then lead grassroots work in a coordinated strategic manner was re-affirmed, but it was noted that a bottom-up outreach could help accelerate things. Indeed it was agreed that there is no fundamental conflict between these approaches, since each FTI member ultimately needs to build up his or own profile at the grassroots level. FTI’s plan of action hinges critically on the quality of leaders that join FTI: and that includes their capacity to relate to the grassroots.
Things which can help accelerate FTI’s goals were noted, including:
  • Better training of leaders, including via workshops
  • Better communication of FTI literature – simple to understand and in local languages.
  • Use of newspaper/media creatively, e.g. greater use of ‘today’s program’ section of the newspapers, in which events are generally free to include
  • More city chapters, with regular meetings (fixed time, venue)
  • Advancing the issues of local self-governance and accountability
It was agreed that in the near future we must all contribute to whatever efforts FTI leaders are taking on the ground, and help increase their visibility – and thus, also, attract more leaders. Those of us contesting in 2014 (on their own) can learn from the liberal party in South Africa which successfully followed the strategy of ‘one district at a time’. Ultimately, each one of us needs to build ourselves as mass leaders via grassroots work in our constituencies and generate local mass support. This includes developing our personal profiles and extensive outreach and travel in the constituencies.
It was agreed that FTI should continue as a Trust even after 500 leaders have assemble, who may choose one or more existing/new liberal political parties for direct political action.
How to further speed up FTI’s work?
The last session of the first day discussed how FTI’s efforts can be accelerated. Key suggestions included:
Expand our presence online. FTI’s website needs to refresh its contents. It was felt that we have not fully utilized web technology. Improvements that can be made include: email response to forum discussions (this is technically very challenging), linking the website with mobile technology, getting greater freshness and interactivity on the website, and finally, a more active Twitter presence.
On the ground
Many more outreach programs have to be organized.
Media advertisement could help find leaders. (Indeed – a few days later excellent outcomes were achieved from the FTI’s Chandigarh event which was covered in the Times of India. Hence this should be broadened to include general medial coverage.) As already noted, the ‘daily program’ (free column/section) of newspapers can be used to advertise FTI meetups and outreach events.
Action plan
The conference recommended that FTI set itself these goals:
First Priority Goal: Attract or find leaders
Second Priority Goal: Support those FTI members who will contest the 2014 elections. This can include gaining greater visibility by possibly fielding them against VIPs.
Other goals:
Mass Movementincluding identifying issues with mass base which can translate into votes  The top three issues translatable into votes include: primary education (English medium, good quality, via vouchers), ambulance i.e. mobile health care (very important in rural areas), and removal of corruption in governance and criminalization of politics (rural and urban issue).
Make FTI visible and reach people across all sections of the society.
Support related movements, e.g. India Against Corruption movement.
Increase personal profiles. We need to build ourselves up as real mass leaders.
Communication: Prepare local language literature.
Individual members took responsibility to progress these and many other related actions, including the responsibility of organsing more outreach events.

Summary of interaction with other groups

On the second day extensive interactions occurred with other groups. These are summarised below.
Jago Party — Introduction by Mr Surya Prakash Loonker, followed by Q&A
a. Floated by non-political citizens (ie those who were not from within the black force)
b. Founder – Mr. Deepak Mittal, based in Hyderabad
c. National Party – contested Rajasthan state elections in 2007, and 17 lok sabha seats in 2009
d. Key issues: corruption, removing discrimination of all kinds (caste/religion/regional), privatization
e. Not related to Jago Re campaign
f. What do they want from FTI? – Contest from Jago
i. Jago does not provide funds to the candidates. They are expected to raise their own funds. Sometimes, matching funds are provided.
g. Want to bring together all good people. Have been having formal talks with BRSP, Loksatta etc.
h. No wins in the elections so far, though have ranked 3/4/5 in several elections
i. Mass outreach
  • Send 1 lakh SMS’s (every month)
  • Latest initiative: multi-lingual paper – one lakh copies, penetration to all sections of the society (articles invited by FTI members)
  • 1500 members in Delhi. Hoping to get to 1 lakh members soon.
  • Shikayat Karo Bharat Badlo campaign
j. Criteria for selecting candidates
  • Must be contesting elections for the right reasons
  • Winnability
k. Tried having regular meet-ups, but people fizzled out after a few rounds. Outreach events around issues are more effective.
l. Regional to National scale-up is very difficult. Therefore National to start with.
Bharat Uday Mission — Dr Akalpita Paranjpe
Objective – Rise of a great nation
Start: December 2002, undergrads from IIT Kanpur. Later students from IIMs as well.
Large initial momentum – 2 yrs, 6000 members, 60 chapters across the country. Got difficult to control. Founders (Gopal Krishna) left.
In 2009, after a period of disintegration, Akalpita ji stepped up to bring things back on track. The party was registered in 2009, days before the general elections. Three candidates were fielded: From Mumbai, Patna and Delhi. But Delhi candidate had to withdraw later as her MNC company did not approve (she would have had to resign to contest).
Expectation from FTI: Bring together different like minded parties
Have had 6 National Conferences
No relationship with Lok Paritran (which was also founded by IITians)
Lessons: Decision making process is critical. Evolution of this process as people come and go is important.
Immediate focus: re-activate old members
Politicians should be ‘service minded’ – they have to serve people
Samudai Bharati — Piyush Gupta
Piyush showed a nice video introducing Samudai Bharati
Looking for lifelong engagement, via different levels of staging grounds.
Rs 2/day subscription, to be renewed annually. Also a means to check who continues to be engaged
Loksatta — Alok Kumar Singh
a. Political Party since 5 years, Lok Satta Andolan since 16 years
b. In the North, it is still in the form of an Andolan – to attract the right kind of people (selfless). A political party attracts all kinds of people.
c. Looking for 5000 leaders nationally.
d. Expectations from FTI: Platform to bring together like-minded groups
e. Selection of candidates:
No Criminal Background, or involvement in illegal activity (Mr T N Sheshan – Ombudsman)
Should have shown commitment to local issues, and spirit of social service
f. Mr. J. P. Narayan is not the President now. Mr. Verma took over as President when Mr. J. P. was elected as the MLA in 2009.
g. Expectations: More than 10 seats in A.P.
Indian Nationalist League — Mr Abhishek Rao, Mr Bhrigu Datt
Aim – One India, Nationalist Identity above all other identities
Creating a seamless polity – via dialogue
Clarification – Nation exists for people (not the other way round)
Have been in political life for last 7-8 years
Ultimate aim: happiness of all Indians
Also do social work through NGOs – education, health & sanitation (eg Open Drains). In Sangam Vihar Slum of Delhi (which spans 3 Lok Sabha constituencies).
Social work and political process cannot be divorced.
Indiais a ‘nation’ (already), but there is scope of improvement
Manali Shah (from FNF, Delhi)
a. offered to help all liberal political groups in training their members. This is one of FNF’s mandates. She is also interested in documenting new emerging political efforts in India and expressed desire to engage with all groups.

Concluding session

Akalpita Paranjpe summarized key points from the conference. It was agreed that this was beginning/continuation of a conversation, which is crucial in the process of aligning all members of FTI.  Members reviewed the conference experience and found it to be extremely useful. Akalpita Ji ended the formal conference on a high by singing a beautiful inspirational song.
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