Thoughts on economics and liberty

Dear Arvind, the only path to corruption-free India is through policies of liberty

Before I talk about my meeting with Arvind Kejriwal let me affirm that IAC has indeed made a significant contribution to India. Gurcharan Das, whom I met last evening, had many positive comments about Team Anna's movement, particularly in awakening the Indian middle class. If for nothing else, Arvind Kejriwal, the brain trust of Team Anna, deserves credit for making a real difference to India.

But there is MUCH MORE WORK ahead! And the conversion of our aspirations for India into reality is a much harder task.

So let me now talk about my meeting with Arvind. I will also send this blog post to Arvind so he can read this and get the opportunity to recapitulate some of the comments I made to him in the meeting. 

As many of you aware, senior FTI member Somnath Bharti has represented Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi in their court case against CWG corruption. This case was very successful and led to 14 cases of corruption being filed by CBI.

Both Somnath and Arvind are IITians (along with a few other FTI members). Somnath also respects Arvind deeply, and believes that Arvind's integrity is totally beyond question. Given my presence in India, Somnath organised a meeting between me and Arvind, held yesterday (22 Feb) at 12 noon in Arvind's office in Kaushambi (on the way to Ghaziabad).

The meeting was very short: only 20 minutes. Arvind was very busy. Anna was coming to Delhi just a little later and Arvind was being constantly interrupted by people even while he was talking to me. Names like Hegde and Kiran Bedi were being bandied about. Anna's flight was slightly late so that was discussed. And so on.

There was no time for niceties or getting to know each other better. People were swarming around us. I had to cut to the chase.


I introduced myself briefly, with the LBSNAA as link, a place where I had taught in 1994 and Arvind had passed through as a fresh civil service recruit in 1992. Harsh Mander was our common friend. 

I outlined to him (in short-hand!) why, after so many years in the IAS I decided in February 1998 to change India. There was no one else willing (or capable) of bringing about the change. I had no choice but to do it myself. I then gave him an outline of the three failed political efforts I made in this regard. Then told him about FTI and why FTI will succeed.

Lack of liberty: the root cause of all problems in India

I pointed out the mess outside his office, about the miserable poverty that is experienced by hundreds of millions of Indians. That is the main problem in India: the total waste of our people's potential.

In this context, while asking Arvind which countries he had visited, he mentioned (among others) Korea. That was an excellent hook. I therefore spoke to him about the key difference between North and South Korea – which I have discussed in detail in my book, Breaking Free of Nehru. The difference is all about liberty.

I explained that good governance, underpinned by the principles of liberty, is the best way to remove corruption and bring unprecedented prosperity to India (such as to the people who live in misery just outside his office). I explained how some of the world's best academics such as Alasdair Roberts (who has taught at LBSNAA) have vetted my book. We therefore need to understand and follow world-best models of governance in India.

Our job is to ensure the kind of governance that will enable our poor to create wealth. This will AUTOMATICALLY eliminate both poverty AND corruption.

I added that corruption is a symptom, NOT the cause of India’s many problems. Corruption is like malarial fever while the cause (malarial parasite) is lack of liberty and bad policies. Even Anna, Arvind admitted, agrees that Lokpal will only act like a band-aid and more fundamental reforms will be needed. We need not just the enforcement of rules (or stronger punishment to the corrupt), but the right kind of rules.

Arvind should offer his leadership to India and DIRECTLY change India

I pointed out that in order to change the lives of our desperately poor people, we must not provide mere band-aids or a patchwork of "solutions" unrelated to any fundamental principle of governance. We must provide a comprehensive solution based on the principle of liberty. And the only way to do this is by directly providing political leadership to India through the parliament.

I mentioned that all his IAC work will make not the slightest dent in India's governance. What is needed is to take over the government and directly provide the governance that India needs.

I mentioned  that the Director of the Academy in 1984 (IM Puri) used to tell us that if we really want to change India we have no choice but to enter politics. And when a probationer from our 1982 batch asked Indira Gandhi in 1983 (during a meeting in the PM’s house) why there was so much corruption in the Congress party, she challenged the probationer thus: If you can do better and remove corruption why don’t you do it yourself?

That same challenge remains today, 30 years later. Let us not preach nor exhort others to do things for us. In our free democracy, we are obliged to directly do it ourselves. I have taken up that challenge in February 1998. And I want all the best leaders of India to take up that challenge.

Why is it that we have such high quality people in India and such low quality results? The time to complain is over. Now it is time to DIRECTLY do the job.

I added to Arvind that I’m interested ONLY in him – personally – and not his group. I’m looking PURELY for high quality young leaders for tomorrow's India. But in addition to being honest these young people must understand the right policies.

That means Arvind  will need to understand the concept of liberty better, and pay serious attention to policies.

He agreed to read any material that I may send to him. I promised to do so soon.

I also explained that on FTI we only take people who are determined to become Prime Minister of India. If people don’t have such determination – to offer their PERSONAL services to India as its leader, they should not waste our time.

Indeed, on FTI there are at least 60 Arvind Kejriwals today (figuratively speaking). They are currently not well known (e.g. Somnath Bharati), just as Arvind was not well known when he first started his work. But the capability is there. 100 per cent! I also explained that some well-known leaders like JP of LokSatta are effectively members of FTI.

Therefore Arvind can consider joining FTI when he is ready. I'll provide more details to Arvind via email.

That, in sum, was the discussion:

a) Showing Arvind that doing IAC work is fine so long as everyone in IAC knows that this work will NOT change (by even ONE BIT) the lives of the poor people who live like pigs just outside Arvind’s office.

b) Showing Arvind that our fundamental problem is lack of liberty (with accountability).

c) Showing Arvind that without directly offering our PERSONAL political leadership to India, we are never going to be free of the corrupt rascals who govern India.

Let us battle these thugs at the hustings. Let us take over the parliament. 

Our meeting ended on a pleasant note, with a photo, shown below.

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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21 thoughts on “Dear Arvind, the only path to corruption-free India is through policies of liberty
  1. Kamal

    Must say, Sanjeev you have summed up the discussion in a way that also summarises the fabled Indian malady and the only way out of this. Hope Arvind joins in, enters politics, and makes a difference to India that each one of us have a duty towards.

  2. Sumit Shinde

    wow…really Arvind, Anna & others should really take over parliment. But who knows why they are hesitant to do so. Rightly said Saholik sir, if IAC works from outside parliment; they won’t be able to make much difference to India. I wish IAC should join FTI or u both form new party.

  3. allwyn

    On this I remember something Anna said – “that all honest and good leaders from both BJP and CONGRESS must come together and form a new party which he and IAC will support.” now that is unlikely but I believe Anna and IAC and would support FTI if it becomes a party.

    And here both FTI and IAC heads together. Sir I think FTI should be a party and not a “platform”. And if IAC supports FTI and also Atanu’s UVI then FTI will find voters and also it would become easy to find the 1500 leaders FTI needs. Plus IAC is really popular now with lacs of followers, if FTI and IAC combine it would be all over the news taking your message about liberalism to many.

  4. sachin kundu


    So thats what you said but what did Arvind say besides “He agreed to read any material that I may send to him”

    Anything else from him during your chat?

  5. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Not quite, Sachin. In principle Arvind did not reject the idea of going into politics. However, he said he will be talking to his ‘group’ (at that point I reminded him this is about him, not his ‘group’). Arvind did tell me that IAC is reviewing its strategy and joining politics is one of the options.

    This meeting was very tight since Arvind was very busy from all sides. The fact that he is interested in exploring this further is positive. I’ve also sent him an email and requested the Delhi FTI team to pursue further with him, particularly fellow IITians on FTI.

    On a complex matter as this, one can’t achieve wonderful results in 20 minutes, but this was a positive start.


  6. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Allwyn, let’s not rush. Almost the entire IAC is leftist. Arvind himself said so:

    It won’t help India one bit if one more round of Nehruvian “good leaders” start a new round of socialist restriction of liberties.

    And no, FTI doesn’t believe that those who are in Cong/BJP have any possibility of being ‘good’

    Let us awaken India and find new leaders. The existing crop of leaders is totally rotten.

  7. Sudeep

    Dear Sanjeev

    20 Minutes is too Little time to make any one convince / understand about Capitalism and Liberty , If he (Mr Arvind) is Open Minded Man and Accept Frankly good thought from others then he may try to go inner, else its waste ,

  8. KK Verma

    Dear Sanjeev,
    Thank you for sharing two blogs emanating after meeting with Arvind. From your blogs about Arvind, I have few critical observations-
    1. Our leaders must chose a good lifestyle. It is pathetic to see the surroundings of India great (famous) leader like Arvind Kezriwal, dirt all around his house/office. He must chose a cleaner place to live and improve his lifestyle before he improves the life of million of Indians.
    2. Leader should not be busy. The way you have mentioned, Arvind was very busy during 20 minutes meeting. This is the irony of ‘time management’. Indian leaders must learn time management and chose the best thing to to in a day or at a particular time. I feel that Arvind wasted his valuable opportunity to meet a visionary and get some good idea. Indian leaders are failing because they are busy in doing trivial things. They are unable to focus on big issues. Similar things I have faced when I have met Rahul Bajaj, Sam Pitroda or Pawan Munjal (of Hero Honda). All remain busy in doing trivial things and unable to conceive or understand big issues. That way I found Naveen Jindal a better leader, not in panic.
    3. Leaders must give due to the best. You had spared your valuable time and gone to meet him, Arvind should have given his 100% to know about you and know your vision. He should have tried to get the maximum out of you so that he is able to take better decisions in future. I personally feel that he has wasted opportunity.
    I hope that Arvind read your photographs and text to derive some better and futuristic conclusions. It will be good for the nation called India. I hope that our leaders live a better lifestyle, have time and give due to the best.

  9. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Re: Arvind, I can’t blame him. Initially all busy people are like this – they give about 20 minutes. If it works, the time they give expands.

    I’ve hooked up Arvind to Dipinder (and he is already in touch with Somnath). Hopefully Arvind will attend a Delhi FTI chapter meeting soon. I encouraged him to meet the talented team in Delhi and to also meet Gurcharan Das (who has now offered to host him lunch).

    When Arvind finds time from his current engagements, he may take up these offers. I’m not worried (about my time spent). I was reading a book and taking hundreds of photos during my journey from Gurgaon to meet Arvind. Not a minute was wasted!

  10. Shailesh

    Dear Sanjeev:

    I strongly oppose leftism, fully support liberty (with transparency and accountability) but also strongly believe in Arvind Kejriwal, his methods, etc.

    Pls forgive me but my humble submission is this – your only mistake is to sort of insist that only the FTI model (or directly fighting elections) can solve India’s ills. I suggest you to read/think more about the value of ‘political pressure groups’ in a democracy. They actually are great examples of the benefits of competition / liberty.

    IAC is an ‘outsider’ political pressure group which relies on popular support rather than ‘connections’. While India has had numerous ‘insider’ political pressure groups like NCPRI or other ‘think-tanks’ with connections, the absence of more ousider groups is arguably the main reason why Indian democracy has failed to honour the will of the people.

    Think of IAC as a ‘votebank’ based on issues (rather than caste, religion or region). Everyone is aware that votebanks (people who vote, or are just perceived to vote, as a bloc) are immensely powerful i.e. they can ‘swing’ elections by transferring a tiny % of votes from the leading candidate to the likely runner-up.

    The advantage of a issue based votebank is that it is very accountable i.e. people are not tied to IAC (the way they are tied to their religion). Whenever IAC fails to convince people or demands something bad or something for its own benefit, its support reduces – people stop flocking to their agitations, independent voices start criticizing them and politicians ignore / ridicule them.

    If IAC does well, it’s power / success will encourage other competing votebanks. Competition will increase innovation and keep IAC accountable / on its toes (eliminate any chances of IAC, or any one group, becoming too powerful). These votebanks (by encouraging debates and creating awareness) can pressurize govt. to talk with and listen to its people – even in between elections.

    Even for FTI or any other new party / candidate to win elections, reasonable electoral rules and a level playing field are important. If nothing else, political pressure groups are essential to force the existing politicians to reform our electoral processes (IAC’s first frontier should, arguably, have been electoral reforms, not lokpal). Needless to say, once elections become reasonable and provide a level playing field, you will no longer have to exhort people…many more will automatically sign up to run the country!

    (Liberalists, like us, can have our own ‘popular’ votebank if IAC insists on socialism – though, in my view, even Jan Lokpal brilliantly espouses classical liberalism)

    If this interests you, I am available to discuss – for more than 20 minutes :)

  11. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Shailesh

    We have to be very cautious about IAC which is almost entirely populated by hard-core socialists. The idea of Lokpal can form part of the liberal agenda, but it is a very low level issue in the scheme of things India needs.

    As I have repeatedly shown, the implementation of OTHER reforms will almost entirely eliminate corruption, anyway. (and let’s not simplify things by calling them “electoral reforms” when we mean entirely different things – what I mean by electoral reforms seems to be entirely opposite to what Anna thinks are electoral reforms.)

    Today, with almost 99 per cent corruption in the government, motivated by socialist policies (which need to be entirely changed), it is pointless to punish one or two persons (or even a thousand) out of the millions of corrupt politicians and officials. The system has created these corrupt people. Let us fix the system, they too will change.

    I decided to talk to Arvind Kejriwal not because I admire IAC or the issue/s he has so far picked, but because I believe his is a capable young man who is wasting his time. If he opens his mind to it, he has the capacity to understand policy matters that need to be understood in order for India to develop genuinely good policies of liberty.

    Re: pressure groups, I am not denying their role, nor of civil society more generally. Of course a democracy should allow all voices to be heard.

    All I’m focused on is TOTAL REFORM of India’s governance. No peace-meal, patchwork, NON-SOLUTIONS (e.g. what IAC is doing). The reforms I want can’t be delivered by pressure groups.

    In any event, if we are good/better than existing politicians we must offer ourselves to the people. If they reject us, then we can leave India and go elsewhere. But we can’t NOT offer our services and YET keep criticising politicians from outside the political system. I therefore condemn those who criticise our politicians (who have kept the flag of democracy alive in India), but don’t offer their services instead.

    I’d be happy to discuss further with you. I always have time for people who are genuinely interested in liberty in India.


  12. Shailesh

    Thank you for your kind response Sanjeev. Unfortunately, I disagree on many points here.

    However, the key issue is your supreme confidence that FTI will be able to win 300 Lok Sabha seats. In my view (and I really hope I am wrong), FTI, with an all-or-nothing approach, will never win even 30 seats. Even if you won 300 seats, wouldn’t you require Rajya Sabha approval for any meaningful legislative action?

    Thanks for agreeing to discuss with me. You have my email. Can you kindly send me a no. I can call you on? Honestly, despite the common belief in liberty, seems like we are poles apart in some of our thinking. I sense a great opportunity for me to learn.

  13. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Shailesh

    I trust you realise that FTI does not plan to contest unless the people of India WANT change. So the idea of winning 30 seats is not applicable. Do also read:

    This is not as hard as it seems. It does require SERIOUS preparation, though, which should not be beyond the capacity of brilliant Indians. We can build superb rockets and nuclear stations. Surely we can manage a challenging political project.


  14. Shailesh

    thanks Sanjeev…i read that article after I wrote my earlier comment….i like the wisdom of waiting for donations from the public before you plunge. I hope, as a free market proponent, you will let customer ‘feedback’ (no. of people who donate to FTI) reinforce / change your thinking. Atleast I am genuinely curious to know the feedback so far….maybe I can re-evaluate my thinking.

    can you also share a quick word on my rajya Sabha point?

    thanks for your time

  15. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Shailesh,

    FTI will form its own views. In that process FTI has its own mechanism for discussion. The idea is to get coherence among these 1500 members first. Discussing with the general voter is not on the cards. The idea is to offer them a clear choice of (a) high quality leaders (b) clear policy plans. They can choose or reject. They can’t then debate with FTI’s platform, although the voter would of course get to participate in the detailed consultation during implementation. A general debate with 1 billion people is not practicable, and that is not how political groups can work, anyway.

    The Rajya Sabha issue will have to be resolved incrementally. BFN talks about a three year time period for implementing all major reforms, with immediate reforms of things that are within the control of the central government. Within three years sufficient Rajya Sabha seats will be needed to implement very significant Constitutional amendments (and almost certainly the introduction of a new constitution within another year or two, through a referendum). Do read BFN for a detailed plan. All aspects have been fully considered.

  16. allwyn

    Dear Sanjeev,
    When FTI does come to power and wants to reform, say introduce FDI in retail won’t the opposition create problems like they did now. The UPA had the power to go ahead with the policy and still was pushed back.I also don’t understand why did they succumb to the pressure when it was clearly a good policy benefiting farmers?

  17. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Allwyn

    FTI is not a political party so “it” won’t come to power. Its members may well do so, and should do so, but note that they can’t come to power UNLESS Indians want them to.

    And if they DO want FTI members to come to power, they will know fully well what FTI stands for – and will be willing to give it a chance to implement its policies. That is why in insist n at least 300 seats in parliament. Else it is not worth trying to contest elections.

    At that stage, though, it will still remain important to do things in a very consultative and cooperative way, but should “opposition” create problems, they will have to be reminded that the people are SICK of them and want change.