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Would FTI join Swaraj Party if Arvind Kejriwal agrees to support liberty (with accountability)?

Shailesh Saraf has asked a very good question.

IF one can get IAC/Arvind to agree to the principle of liberty with accountability, then is it likely that you/FTI will consider being a part of the ‘Swaraj’ party?

or are there other issues also that need agreement first? (like contesting elections only when confident of forming govt., etc?

This is not a hypothetical question.

Shailesh, who works in Hong Kong as Vice President of Morgan Stanley, is one of IAC's most prominent supporters. Shailesh and I have held a long conversation over the phone a few months ago, and I respect his professional credentials and experience. I invited him to join FTI if he is willing to contest elections. I'm glad he visits this blog and keeps in touch. Recently, I have requested Shailesh to make contact with Arvind Kejriwal and (even as he sends my commendation on Arvind's decision to join politics) suggest to him to consider alternative views.

Now, my answer to Shailesh

Shailesh, it is very hard to take someone from point A on the political spectrum of thought to point B. Much depends on whether the person who is placed at point A is willing to conduct a discussion.

With due respect, I don't see Arvind committing to liberty that easily. Nor should he do that.

You don't commit to liberty as an after thought. Arvind needs to understand what liberty implies.

Understanding liberty a journey which will take him through a number of readings and discussions, including with people like Gurcharan Das.

When I met Gurcharan Das in February (he is writing a book, India Grows at Night), we had a long discussion re: IAC, and he was keen to meet Arvind. I wrote to Arvind that he should meet Gurcharan. I don't know whether he did.

Arvind has, to the best of my knowledge, not yet interacted with people who promote liberty. He has not been associated with the Centre for Civil Society, Liberty Institute, or my 14-1/2 years of work mainly in the political space. He has not been engaging with people like Swamy Aiyar, Ashok Desai, Pramit Pal Choudhury, S.V. Raju, Deepak Lal, or Jadgish Bhagwati (not that I know all these people well, but I've gone out of my way to engage with them and learn from them).

An intellectual journey takes time. It can't be rushed.

When Gandhi came to India from South Africa, Gokhle asked him to spend the first year travelling across India to understand it better. In the case of Arvind, he needs to spend one year in discussion with people. He should discuss with everyone, but particularly with those with whom he has never engaged before. He should discuss with the likes of Gurcharan, Parth, Barun, Swamy, Ashok, Pramit Pal – all located in India. And with people like Deepak Lal, Jagdish Bhagwati, and even me (if I can put myself into such an eminent list) – among those outside. I'm happy to spend many hours with him over the coming months discussing things.

After he engages in such discourse, Arvind arrive at his own views. I can't pre-determine them, nor say what he will say or do. He may well choose the path of liberty. Or the path of statism. I can't say in advance.

But it will be foolhardy (and unacceptable!) for him to commit to liberty without understanding what it means.

But what if he finally does agree with the concept?

Well, that's clearly going to be only the first step. Then are the many details. FTI has been working on most of these details. But there are others, such as the nature of the political group, its sources of funding, its internal functioning, etc. etc. In discussing these details, he must assemble and engage with 1000s of those who will actually contest elections, and get detailed agreements.

Then, and only then, should actual political action be undertaken (e.g. political party/ contesting elections).

If Arvind doesn't undertake these preparatory steps, please assure him that he will fail. Big time. He may well lose his own deposit in 2014. If he announces a "party" or (worse!) a "manifesto" without such preparation, he will not even be remain a cipher in India's history. Even his past contributions will disappear.

But he should not fail. I don't want any bright young (and honest) man who wishes to join politics to fail.

Let him, therefore, spend one year in discussion. 

I trust you agree that a political movement is quite different from a one-cause civil society battle. It must be done well on pain of total failure.

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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21 thoughts on “Would FTI join Swaraj Party if Arvind Kejriwal agrees to support liberty (with accountability)?
  1. Shailesh

    Thanks for he detailed response Sanjeev. I agree with the need to prepare well and not rush into things (though i don’t think IAC will go to the lengths you expect).

    It also seems (correct me if this is wrong) that you don’t want to support any effort that doesn’t target getting majority in Parliament.

    That’s not going to be IAC’s target, IN MY VIEW. In the initial years, they will be content winning 5-10% of seats in LokSabha/assembly elections and, by their exemplary conduct, pressurize other politicians to shape up.

    Bigger issues aside, the 2 sides will need lots of flexibility just to agree on a common strategy.

  2. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Shailesh, FTI does not prevent any associate (e.g. LokSatta) from contesting elections. Just that overall, there is a vehement agreement on FTI that it is pointless to contest without offering a national government.

    I seriously doubt if IAC sponsored candidates will win even 1 seat, leave along 5-10% (as you suggest) without massive preparation. JP did about 10 years of work in Andhra and was widely known all over. He won his own seat but all others lost their deposits.

    The middle class (the main supporters of IAC) do not vote and I don’t anticipate they will.

    It is somewhat pointless to try to lose, so I’m in favour of proper thinking and preparation.

  3. allwyn

    Exactly. The middle class does not vote + DO NOT CARE. Plus the voting card system is a total mess. Getting a PAN card takes 20days but a voting card doesn’t reach you even after 2 yrs, that too with repeated attempts After which people stop trying. Maybe IAC can streamline the process and make all their supporters definitely vote!

  4. allwyn

    also everyone is of the opinion that a anna party will eat into anti-congress votes and help it back to power! The argument has a point though I’d like to think it’ll pull a share from congress votes too.

    PS: How depressing that after all congress has done there’s a still a chance of it getting to power.

  5. Shailesh

    yes Sanjeev, I agree that 5-10% is almost impossible…and I won’t be surprised if IAC wins nothing.

    IAC probably wants to contest without proper preparation. Implies failure.

    FTI wants to contest only when likely to/confident of forming govt. Implies non-participation (in my view).

    Both fail to appreciate that our FPTP system has very high barriers to entry (particularly for FTI, IAC type bodies whose support is spread thinly across the nation). To enter parliament, FPTP requires you to initially focus on winning a few seats. Else, the candidates of new parties just end up being ‘spoilers’!

  6. Sanjeev Sabhlok


    We’ve had extensive discussions about strategy on FTI. The view is that the Indian voter will NOT vote unless you are a real force to reckon with. So focusing on a “few seats” is not the optimal strategy. By focusing on all 540+ seats, and through a huge preparatory effort, the voter will gain confidence to vote for a new establishment and you can win many (don’t know how many) seats.

    The alternative is to do seat-adjustments with this or that party. FTI members will never adjust with any group that is not entirely clean and committed to the same goals. Hence seat adjustment is ruled out. It has to be ONE SINGLE umbrella. That’s a simple obvious implication.

  7. vijay

    Sanjeev, I am not at all privy to the strategy discussions you might have had with the team, but I do hope that FTI can become that one huge reckonable force capable of contesting all the 500+ seats in one shot, without participating in any elections earlier. This sounds like an ambitious plan, but I hope your team has a plan in place and are working towards that. The only way I feel you can make the party a reckonable force without contesting elections is by being part of or creating a movement like Team Anna’s. And even their chances are limited even if they decide to contest in all seats in 2014. So how FTI’s party is going to make itself a name before they contest is going to be a really intriguing strategy. Good luck. I realize that your process requires patience and is much more long term, so I am a believer for now.

    I only hope that as and when FTI gets a chance, they popularize their goals and movement in the media. The other day it was nice to see JP of Loksatta in a debate on one of the national TV channels on Team Anna’s declaration. A rare sighting, but nevertheless important.Likewise FTI has to evolve a strategy of marketing themselves first and foremost. You guys know better

  8. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Vijay, I’ve discussed FTI/ IAC extensively in the past. Let’s wait and see how things develop. FTI is a far deeper and richer concept (in terms of policy depth and width) than IAC. The IAC has a lot to learn before it reaches the calibre of FTI. Let’s wait for it to grow.

    I’m not interested in political competition, but in liberty and good governance. FTI won’t be rushed into bad decisions.


  9. Shailesh

    OK, I know you disagree with me on the FPTP created need for new parties to focus on certain seats and/or co-operate in some manner with other parties.

    Even then, there is a case for FTI to focus on assembly elections in 1 state, hopefully form govt., perform and show results. I know there are limitations to what state govt. can do but obviously one can do enough to create a wave across the country.

    Another advantage of first capturing the states is you can start with a state without legislative council (WB, TN, AP?) so that your govt has enough power. Also, by the time you reach Lok Sabha, you’ll have some support in Rajya Sabha. I am sure you have a strategy for having enuf representation in Rajya Sabha.

    I am convinced that FTI, despite great leaders, a truly democratic organization and great policies, will fail if it targets 540 Lok Sabha seats in its first electoral venture. Yet, you can count on my support to prove me wrong.

    Good luck!

  10. Sanjeev Sabhlok


    You are entitled to your opinion. Please note that we are talking about FTI strategy and that has been throughly assessed by its members over the past four years, including three annual conferences. Vigorous debates on this issues have occurred, and so FTI has a very clear, well though out strategy.

    I do not intend to debate with you on FTI strategy. You are welcome to join FTI and attempt to prove to its members why they should do what you are doing. Debate with FTI. You will get one vote. That’s how we should operate.


  11. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Btw, there are MANY members on FTI who have actually contested elections, been members of political parties, etc. Not a bunch of novices. I too have 15 years of experience (and strategic thinking) in this area. You may be right, but the probability of that being the case is very remote, close to zero.


  12. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Nothing stops FTI members from contesting elections on their own. At least 2 FTI members will contest LS elections in 2014, and if you add Lok Satta then at least 20 should contest. Most if not all will lose their deposit.

    Let’s not waste time talking about elections when we don’t have a critical mass of leaders.

  13. vijay

    “At least 2 FTI members will contest LS elections in 2014, and if you add Lok Satta then at least 20 should contest. Most if not all will lose their deposit.

    Come on Sanjeev, thats negative thinking. Lets hope for the best. Maybe if JP and others indulge in serious campaigning from now on and if you are able to rope in another popular face supporting your cause, the results could easily be better. Not saying you would win, but you might not lose the deposit. Getting the middleclass to vote is difficult and the focus should be on reaching out to grassroots

    Also, as an aside I like to point out that although you are against fasts and starvation, if Anna hadnt fasted Team Anna wouldnt have been known beyond Delhi until now. Fasts might not solve problems or might not help in passing laws but as a publicity/mobilization tool, they are invaluable. Look at what the Telangana guy in AP did with his fast sometime back. He made even Chidambaram commit a mistake.

  14. Sivasundar

    Mr Sanjeev, I’ve been reading your opinions. I always like concept of liberals and honestly like it. I have a question and was not getting answer through your website and also elsewhere. How can a liberal like you / FTI get across this concept to many who are economically poor, intellectually poor (following caste based politics, living on film fantasy?), culturally poor and similarly middle-classes in above categories (such as economically middle-class etc.,) because they form general mass, when I say mass (I meant in size and in their mob culture as well).
    Sorry if above is irrelevant to this entire blog site.

  15. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Sivasundar

    Education has little to do with understanding of freedom. Most educated people are less capable of understanding liberty (since they think they are so smart they can tell others how to live their lives) than the less educated or uneducated.

    I have no doubt that the message of liberty is not difficult to explain, particularly to those who are constantly tied down by government functionaries and ‘elites’.

    If I can get enough people like you to join FTI then the next step is going to be much easier. That’s my firm belief.


  16. Supratim

    To add further to Sanjeev’s comments, I believe, getting the poor and the illiterate to understand how a liberal governance system frees them would be far easier than getting the middle class to understand, who have to shed a lot of baggage first.

    The poor in India have the most to gain from a liberal dispensation, and by shedding socialism – just the recent example of AP farmers crossing the border of Maharashtra to sell their rice in Maharashtra is an example of how to take the message of liberty to the poor (HT: Lok Satta).

    For FTI, as well, I believe that we will be able to spread our message far more quickly among the poor, especially rural poor – but, unfortunately the economics of that does not quite work out for FTI yet, while spreading the message to urban, middle class folks is significantly cheaper.



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