Thoughts on economics and liberty

ONE – FOOTED DEMOCRACY, by Rajaji, 6 January 1959 in The Hindu

DEMOCRACY in India is in quest of an Opposition. It is no longer a matter of doubt or debate but the ruling party in India is itself tired of its near totalitarianism. It wants, and realizing this it desires a strong and real Opposition. The leaders of the ruling party have more than once expressed this, while at the same time making it clear, as they should, that it is not their business to build an Opposition to themselves. Indeed if such an Opposition came into existence, it would be a sham. An Opposition must build itself and be obliged to nobody else for its birth and continued existence.

The Communist Party is no doubt there. If dislike of one another were enough to make a strong Opposition, we should have what we want, in the Opposition of the Communists. But the fact is that the Congress has immobilised the Communist Party even as the Conservative Party has immobilised the Labour Party in Britain by taking up all the socialism of the latter. The communists in India, like the Labour Party in Britain, are a party without any work to do and suffers the maladies of life without aim. Kerala is a curious case and has no bearing on the question. What has happened in Kerala, for causes of local relevance, cannot be repeated elsewhere or at any rate, not in all India. The only Opposition that can be a true democratic balance to the ruling party in Delhi is a conservative party—a party that openly and boldly stands for and is guided by the principle of conserving what we have and what is good, before proceeding to change or disturb the status quo. Change should not come for mere compliance with untested, unrealistic slogans of revolution. The Congress has thrown to the winds this principle of conservation of what is good and rooted in the soil and has been acting more or less as a prisoner of its own slogans.

All the world knows that the Government of India under Congress has not produced good government and has not given welfare or happiness to the people who hunger for it. Indeed it has brought about a great deal of distress. Socialism can do good only if it went hand in hand with the principle of conservation of what is good and has taken root. It the Congress itself had realized and been guided by this principle, the absence of an Opposition may not have been felt except by academic upholders of democracy.

A good conservative party firmly adhering to the goal of general welfare and progress but careful of what we already have and what is good, may achieve through socialist advance more of happiness for the people as a whole than what the Congress has been able to do.

Even if lost opportunities make it difficult for such a party to gather enough strength to oust the  ruling party, it can fill the gap that now makes democracy hop on one foot and make for balanced and healthy progress. Exhibitionism, megalomania and an inordinate concern for dressing up the foreign window have left no room for efficient internal policies and attention to good administration. Centralization, the natural corollary of the ‘slogan-socialism’, has done immense mischief.

The gigantic pool of insurance assets have in the hands of the Government demonstrated the great error of centralization. It was an accident but a useful one, that mismanagement was made public. Normally, the nature of insurance business is such that many decades could pass without showing up even gross mismanagement. Fresh business hides all faults. If the business were in the hands of several companies, it would naturally be easier to locate and isolate fraud and mismanagement. Competition would come to the assistance of efficiency and evils could be localised.

The land policies of the Government have resulted in confusion, loss of incentive and lack of interest in agriculture itself. No longer is land the great and attractive gilt-edged possession and occupation it once was in India. Everyone knows that the policies, premature announcements and adumbrations of Government in respect of the ownership and tenure of land have brought about loss of confidence, confusion and lack of interest and brought down the value of all land, except of course building sites in cities and towns. City land has gone up in value and this is but a reflexion of the movement of population from rural to urban areas where there is some gainful employment available.

And now the slogan of land reform is co-operative cultivation. Has ever land been put under co-operative cultivation anywhere, anywhere except in countries where private personal liberty is absent and forced labour is commandeered under communist regimes ? Co-operative cultivation plus procurement by Government can in theory be done, but in practice can be done only by compulsion. Men do not feel any enthusiasm or even inclination to become wage-slaves, and peasants are least inclined to it. Co-operative cultivation will be a disastrous failure in our country. It is not an idea born of experience or thought, but a barren corollary of another error—a child of sadism, that of putting a ceiling on ownership of land with no scheme for distribution of the pillage that avoids fragmentation. The history of minor forests handed over to panchayats in Madras had better be studied by those who talk of cultivation by panchayats. The ruling party’s notions, be they good or bad, become law. The people are tame, and those who feel inclined to resist are dependent on Government favour to carry on in their professions, and so the drift goes on unchecked.

Conservatism is not lack of patriotism or fervour. It is consistent with concern for the poor. It is wisdom and good management of national resources and can hold as much of social welfare as any other party labelling itself socialist.

Social welfare and the uplift of the poor and less privileged are no longer points of dispute and there is no sense in making a party cry of it now. The question is whether a programme of social welfare is to be based on the principle of conservation of what is good and rooted in the life of the people or whether it is to be based on sadist passion.

A wide public is waiting to give support to an Opposition formed on a sound basis, because the people have realized that one-footed democracy is not good and is not distinguishable from coercion and totalitarianism.


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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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