Thoughts on economics and liberty

A report on my recent trip to India (27 September -15 October 2018)

In June 2019 it will be five years since the registration of Swarna Bharat Party with the Election Commission of India.

Despite almost total lack of significant interest in reforms from Indians over the past 20 years, I have been pushing myself along to complete this last chapter. I have decided to put in reasonable effort at least till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and then review any further involvement with India.

This is my last and final experiment in reforms in India. If Indians continue to display the same attitude towards reform that they have displayed for over 20 years, I’m going to put down my pen and pick up the painting brush and trekking gear from June 2019.

But I must do my due diligence and put in the appropriate effort during this last experiment.

Why did I make this trip now?
I had been watching the lackadaisical progress of the party for some time now, although there have been sporadic signs of life in Bhadohi and a few other places. But there were a constellation of things I wanted to achieve so I decided to make a trip in September-October.

There have been significant problems with SBP’s website and I wanted to discuss this personally with our IT team in Jaipur. I also wanted to meet our party’s new candidate Mahesh Gaendragadkar in Pune and see the progress being made in Maharashtra. I was also interested in meeting Shetkari Sanghatna leaders and if possible Swatantra Bharat Party leaders. I was also interested in visiting Bhadohi to see for myself the progress being made by this young team.

Two other things came up. First, the launch of a new India movement on the 81st birthday of Swami Om Poorna Swatantra on 6th October in Delhi. And there was also the possibility of meeting a couple of journalists during my trip.

Each India trip is expensive. I’ve spent over Rs.1.25 lakhs on this trip, and the question for me is: was this good value for my money and time. I will answer this question at the end of this post.

So what did I do and what did I learn?

I’ll go chronologically, below. Further, most of this material is covered in some form or shape on my blog and on my Facebook posts. I’ll provide a few links but for anyone interested in pictures, etc. – please visit my FB profile of this period.

On 29 and 30 September I was in Jaipur: On 29 September I met SBP’s IT team and went through a number of issues for improvement of the SBP website. Some discussion also took place regarding potential support for video editing and social media activities. This will be finalized in the coming days subject to the costs and the capacity of the local team to bear these costs. The party is unable to fund these activities at this stage.

Most of the second day was spent with the local Jaipur team. We considered how the Jaipur constituency could be activated for the parliamentary elections. There is a prospect of the Jaipur constituency being contested. I won’t say more at this stage.

On 2,3,4 October I was in Pune: On the way to Pune on 1 October I met one of the senior journalists of Times of India and had a useful preliminary discussion.

On 2 October I met two key leaders of Shetkari Sanghatna. The members of the Swatantra Bharat Party who were expected to attend were unwell and could not come. Amar Habib from Kisan Putra also attended (although he was unwell and had to leave soon). A few young leaders from Kisan Putra also attended. I was particularly impressed by Makarand Doijad.

At the end of the day-long meeting we agreed that – if necessary – the Swatantra Bharat Party could contest Assembly seats on its own, but if we had to have any longer term relationship then Swatantra Bharat Party needed to arrive at a common manifesto with SBP. I requested Swatantra Bharat Party to tell us if they had any differences with our manifesto so we would improve our manifesto. Basically, at the end of this process they needed to put a 100 per cent replica of our joint manifesto on their website. Only then could we engage in the future. At that stage we definitely need to merge, else the whole liberal effort will come to naught – as it has for the past seventy years.

The next two days in Pune I spent most of the time recording videos of Mahesh Gajendragadkar on a range of topics. We agreed that video editing of Marathi videos would need to be done in Pune itself. We also agreed that the Pune team would focus on social media to spread the message. I also met two potential candidates for SBP who might contest from neighbouring constituencies. On the 3rd October evening I spoke at the Entrepreneurs Club.

On return to Delhi from Pune I met a senior leader of AAP who considers himself liberal. This discussion has led to some initial developments – the significance of which only time will tell.

6 October: Delhi I participated in the launch of the new India movement. The launch went reasonably well with around 100 farmer leaders present. I spoke briefly given there was limited time to speak.

8-9 October Bhadohi: Bhadohi was an amazing experience. Just two years of grassroots effort at extremely low cost is bearing the most amazing results. This was the most positive experience of my trip and I came out thinking that the liberal message will finally spread across India from this place. I will try to write in detail about this experience in the coming days.

10 October Delhi It is hard to do an AMA on Reddit from Melbourne given time zone issues. So I decided to do the AMA while I was in India and banged away at the keyboard for nearly two hours. Some young SBP volunteers are assembling learnings from this effort.

11 October: Sonipat On 11 October a few young volunteers of SBP organised a talk with some students at Ashoka University. I thought the talk went well. Students are at least not obnoxious like the ignorant and opinionated “educated” middle class of India.

12 October: Delhi On 12 October I met another senior journalist and also had a detailed discussion with Swami Om Poorna Swatantra. This latter discussion was very productive and may help a range of initiatives to proceed.

13/14 October, Gurgaon: I met a couple of Delhi team members of SBP on 13th and on the 14th had detailed discussions with someone about potential activities in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Some of these discussions might actually yield interesting results.

As we know, there is virtually no appetite for reforms in India. Most “educated” people in India don’t have the slightest interest in reforms.

But in this trip I met only a few such obnoxious people since I focused on meeting SBP leaders and young students – e.g. in Bhadohi and Sonipat. I also enjoyed meeting Shetkari Sanghatna and Kisan Putra leaders.

It remains an ongoing challenge for me to eke out at least some motivation to continue putting in effort till the Lok Sabha elections. There’s something very badly wrong with the mindset of most Indians and I struggle to find reasons to remain involved. Let me just say this, that after more than 20 years of infructuous effort, it will be very easy for me to give up. The cost of my India involvement has been humongous, the results/ reward practically zero. The net balance is massively negative. Yes, I’ve learnt a few things but the cost has been unacceptably high. My mind tells me to STOP. If I was remotely rational, I should not even have started (I should have resigned the IAS much earlier and fled India as soon as possible, as well). But something forces me to do just a little bit more. And every time I end up squeezing yet another blob of motivation and drag myself to do a little bit more.

Despite this huge negative balance and angst, I’d still say that this trip was worthwhile enough. The spark in Bhadohi is of great interest to me. I also hope (hallucinate?) that at least some of these initiatives will finally take off.

Time permitting, I’ll write in detail about some of the above experiences – particularly the Bhadohi one.

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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