Thoughts on economics and liberty

Category: Politics

Is there any merit in Yascha Mounk’s thesis about populist democracies? Not really.

I chanced upon Yascha Mounk through Sagarika Ghose (she’d particularly recommended that I read him, when I met her in October 2018).

So what’s his main thesis? I’ve summarised from this paper.

Who are populist leaders?
“In a wide swath of countries across Europe and North America, a new crop of populists has entered parliament or even ascended to executive power. … Populist politicians as France’s Marine Le Pen, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, and Donald Trump in the United States”

What do they do?
“Most populists are democratic in that they do actually seek to translate popular views on issues such as migration into public policy. At the same time, they are illiberal in their readiness, once in power, to attack independent institutions, undermine the rule of law, and violate the rights of minorities. … While the form populism takes may initially be democratic, its long-term effect is to undermine not only liberalism, but democracy as well. … As we have seen in countries from Venezuela to Hungary, attacks by populists on independent institutions and the rule of law. . .. Evidence from countries including Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela suggests that illiberal democracies are always in danger of degenerating into electoral dictatorships.

Why do we have them?

“Rich individuals and big corporations favor trade treaties, independent central banks, and powerful bureaucratic agencies because they can capture the professionals who work for these institutions, bending their work until it furthers the interests of the wealthy and powerful. In short, most members of the political class favor technocracy because its opaque institutional apparatus makes it easier for them to ignore the popular will.”

He then adds that this is not the only cause – there are many complexities involved.


Based on this limited review, I am not persuaded that Yascha Mounk has understood the real issues – that in the long run (of hundreds of years) liberty and democracy is constantly being expanded. Liberty does not follow a linear course, but people continuously learn and re-learn.

Neither have we reached the end of history as Fukuyama wrote about, nor is there any special advance towards illiberal democracy. Conflating Trump with Maduro is a category error. Trump is no Modi, either. Trump has problems of character and I would not vote for him, but he is a democrat. Most importantly, Trump is bound by the US Constitution which sets the limits of his power. Maduro and the communists do not believe in any limitation of state power anyway. We can’t compare these enemies of liberty with Trump, no matter how abhorrent Trump’s personal behaviour might be.

So is there any cause for concern? Yes and no. Yes, because the forces for liberty have to fight every battle anew in each generation. No, because the forces of liberty have incrementally imposed institutions of liberty on a wide range of countries and these countries are unlikely to deviate too much from the liberal norm.







Continue Reading

Gandhi supported the use of guns for self-defence and opposed the racially discriminatory Arms Act of British India

Gandhi DID NOT oppose the idea of an Arms Act in principle – that he agreed regarding regulation of arms comes out clearly when one reads him completely. But he DID oppose the RACIST Arms Act introduced in 1878 by the British. The “India’s Arms Act of 1878, which gave Europeans in India the right to carry firearms but prevented Indians from doing so, unless they were granted a license by the British colonial government.” [Source].


From my reading (see annotated text in blue below) it appears he would like arms to be used for self-defence, particularly to defend women.

EXTRACTS FROM HIS COMPLETE WORKS (download the 100MB searchable text file here)


The Leader, 28-11-1917: VOL. 16: 1 SEPTEMBER, 1917 – 23 APRIL, 1918 COLLECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI Page 7930

The reforms relating to the Secretary of State and his Council are suggested as being consequential on the reform of the system of government in the country itself. They will, it is trusted, be found to make for economy and for harmony between the authorities in the two countries, without in any way impairing efficiency.

In the Memorandum in support of the proposals, which we beg to hand with this address, the case for reform is set forth at some length. It discusses, too, the important cognate subject of local self-government and a few urgently needed administrative reforms for the introduction of which both the Congress and the League have long been earnestly appealing to Government. The resolutions of the Congress and the Moslem League, the Joint Scheme of Reforms, and the memorandum of the nineteen members, are appended to our Memorandum to facilitate reference. We hope that the country will not have to wait longer to see Lord Ripon’s cherished scheme of real local self-government fully carried out; or for the substantial Indianization of the public services for which our late revered countryman, Mr. Dadabhoy Naoroji, laboured so long and so hard; or for the complete separation of the judicial services and functions from the executive, a reform needed even more in the interest of the backward masses than of the classes; or for such an amendment of the Arms Act and Rules as will not only do away with the invidious racial discrimination against Indians but empower them to possess and carry arms on conditions similar to those which prevail in other civilized countries, in most of the States in this very country, and in the case of Europeans and Americans in British India itself. The country has expressed its gratification at the removal of the bar against the appointment of Indians as commissioned officers in the Army. It trusts that the rules which will regulate their admission will be liberal and open an honourable and patriotic career to the young men of all classes who may satisfy such tests as may be imposed to judge their fitness, that the requisite facilities for their training and examination will be provided in India itself, and that lndians will be appointed in reasonably large numbers. It is a grievance of long standing that Indians are not permitted to enlist as volunteers. If, however, the system of volunteering as it has existed is to disappear, it is believed that the Indian Defence Force will not be disbanded after the war, and it is urged that the Indian section of it may be placed on a level of absolute equality with the European.



The Government does not give us commissions in the Army, it does not repeal the Arms Act; it does not open schools for military training. How can we then co-operate with it? These are valid objections.



Were you not helping the cause of war when you, both while in Africa and here, enlisted men for field service? How does it tally with your principle of ahimsa?

By enlisting men for ambulance work in South Africa and in England, and recruits for field service in India, I helped not the cause of war, but I helped the institution called the British Empire in whose ultimate beneficial character I then believed. My repugnance to war was as strong then as it is today; and I could not then have and would not have shouldered a rifle. But one’s life is not a single straight line; it is a bundle of duties very often conflicting. And one is called upon continually to make one’s choice between one duty and another. As a citizen not then, and not even now, a reformer leading an agitation against the institution of war, I had to advise and lead men who believed in war but who, from cowardice or from base motives, or from anger against the British Government, refrained from enlisting. I did not hesitate to advise them that, so long as they believed in war and professed loyalty to the British constitution, they were in duty bound to support it by enlistment. Though I do not believe in the use of arms, and though it is contrary to the religion of ahimsa which I profess, I should not hesitate to join an agitation for a repeal of the debasing Arms Act which I have considered amongst the blackest crimes of the British Government against India. I do not believe in retaliation, but I did not hesitate to tell the villagers near Bettiah four years ago that they who knew nothing of ahimsa were guilty of cowardice in failing to defend the honour of their womenfolk and their property by force of arms. And I have not hesitated as the correspondent should know only recently to tell the Hindus that, if they do not believe in out-and-out ahimsa and cannot practise it, they would be guilty of a crime against their religion and humanity if they failed to defend by force of arms the honour of their women against any kidnapper who chooses to take away their women. [Sanjeev: Basically he considered the use of arms for self-defence and for the defence of one’s family fully justified] And all this advice and my previous practice I hold to be not only consistent with my profession of the religion of ahimsa out and out, but a direct result of it. To state that noble doctrine is simple enough; to know it and to practise it in the midst of a world full of strife, turmoil and passions is a task whose difficulty I realize more and more day by day. And yet the conviction, too, that without it life is not worth living is growing daily deeper.

Young India , 5-11-1925


COLLECTED WORKS VOL. 39 : 4 JUNE, 1927 – 1 SEPTEMBER, 1927 – Page 18954

As long ago as 1917 or 1918, I said that amongst the many black deeds of the Government, disarmament was the blackest. And out-and-out believer in non-violence though I am, I hold that it is right of any Indian who wishes to bear arms to do so under lawful permission. I do submit that an Arms Act is now and will ever be a necessity of good government. I do not believe in the inherent right of every citizen to possess as many arms as he chooses without a licence. On the contrary, I hold it to be absolutely necessary for good government that the State should have the authority to prohibit the holding of arms except under prescribed conditions.


VOL. 40: 2 SEPTEMBER,1927 – 1 DECEMBER, 1927   – Page 19261

When the Government removes the Arms Act and makes it possible for every Indian to carry arms you will have achieved your object. But remember that it is not possible. Not even a Swaraj Government can do without an Arms Act. Some check there ought to be. Therefore,  I  would  like  you  to  believe  that  the  Madura Satyagraha has failed. It is much better to own our failures, if we are to succeed henceforward.



The Commissioners in every division were holding conferences on the Delhi model. One such was held in Gujarat. My co-workers and I were invited to it. We attended, but I felt there was even less place  for  me  here  than  at  Delhi.  In  this  atmosphere  of  servile submission I felt ill at ease. I spoke somewhat at length. I could say nothing to please the officials, and had certainly one or  two  hard things to say.

I used to issue leaflets asking people to enlist as recruits.1 One of the arguments I had was distasteful to the Commissioner : ‘Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest. If we want the Arms Act to be repealed, if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity. If the middle classes render voluntary help to Government in the hour of its trial, distrust will disappear, and the ban on possessing arms will be withdrawn.’ The Commissioner referred to this and said that he appreciated my presence in the conference in spite of the differences between us.



Continue Reading

Bhadohi district is leading India to freedom – Day 1 experience #1

I don’t have time to publish the full account, so only a part of it today. More later.

First, a bit of background. For over two decades I have conducted a range of political reform experiments in India. In this process, I’ve mostly engaged with intellectuals and the so-called educated middle class. I did, also engage with a grassroots effort: Sharad Joshi’s Swatantra Bharat Party for a while. Despite having left that party after 18 months, I did meet their representatives on 2 October 2018 (as detailed here) – so the Indian political liberals can aim to work together.

My experience with the so-called educated intellectuals of India has been extremely poor. It is a bit pointless to name anyone, but one can pick any so-called “promoter of liberty” from India and it would become clear that they have dramatically failed India. Some of these so-called liberals have even written articles calling for a liberal party to be established in India but when the opportunity was created, they have backed off.
One can only do so much to bring liberty to India – given the obstinate refusal of 99.99 per cent of the “educated” Indians to even ask questions. They are deeply immersed in their corrupt system and personally benefit from it. They have no incentive whatsoever to change anything.

Sporadic signs of hope

Yet there are sporadic signs of hope for liberty in India: a few middle class liberals actually willing to do something about the situation.

The first, of course, is Rahul Pandit, the ever-persistent Working President of Swarna Bharat Party. He was the first to declare his intent to contest elections under the banner of liberty.

The second is Mahesh Gajendragadkar of Pune. I met him only recently (although have engaged over phone for a few months now). I find in him a man willing to put in the hard work to take the message of liberty to the city of Pune, despite the humongous challenges involved.

But there is something special happening in Bhadohi, that I want to write about in this post. The effort in Bhadohi is led by Anil Sharma who has over the past many years, incrementally built up a young leadership team that has blossomed brilliantly over the past year. Rabi Kant Bharti, SBP’s Bhadohi candidate for 2019 Lok Sabha elections, is a gem of a leader and has activated mass propagation of the liberal message in Eastern UP.

The current status of grassroots efforts in Bhadohi

My Bhadohi visit was amazing and inspiring. In summary I wrote on FB:

For pseudo/bogus/intellectual liberals, liberalism is at best about publishing a book or an article and getting a pat on their back – they are like children seeking rewards from their parents.

For the youth of India, liberalism is a matter of life and death.

The first day (8 October 2018) of my two day visit effectively started with a meeting with students in the KNPG college.

Students had assembled to receive us, and I was received with strong slogan shouting in favour of Swarna Bharat Party. A journalist then interviewed me (video below). See FB post.

The KNPG College is in shambles. More like a ruin. We then went inside to explore whether any classroom was available.

In one of the classrooms the teacher had just finished his work. The condition of the place was so bad that one can hardly describe how bad it was. The table which faced the class was full of pigeon droppings. Anyway, I got to speak to around 50 students.

I spoke to students about my great concern with their hopeless condition, and how this was merely just one more example of chronic government failure across the whole country.

I explained to them how – after I joined the IAS – I found the system to be totally corrupted, and therefore, after extensive study of the causes, I decided to leave and try to reform the system through the political process.

I explained to them why the fundamental cause of India’s problems. This can be mainly attributed to government intervention in business and private affairs of citizens.

I give examples of how countries can change dramatically based on the economic system they adopt. Not only is the example of North and South Korea dramatically clear, but examples like Singapore and Cuba which provide a lot of useful information.

I explained how Nehru hated the word profit but Lee Kuan Yew fought to defend the idea of profit, leading to the strong success of Singapore.

I congratulated the students on joining the Swarna Bharat Yuva Morcha and how our party offered a real solution to the country’s problems.

I’m delighted that the party’s ideology has now become widely accepted among the young the students Bhadohi district.

Posters of Pratham Pandey are found all over the KNPG College and all over the major towns in Bhadohi district.

Meeting girl students

Thereafter I attended an event in which a number of girl students had assembled.

In this session I particularly encouraged girl students to not only become leaders in various occupations but to lead the country.



Continue Reading

Republishing Sharad Joshi’s 9 January 2004 speech on the final day of the 5-day India Policy Institute workshop I had organised

Now that I’m once again going to engage directly with Shetkari Sanghatna/Swatantra Paksha in an attempt to work out once and for all whether we are able to work together in a single team, it is time to remind myself and them about the work which was commenced in 2004 but came to a halt in 2005. I’ll explain further to the people in Pune why the work unfortunately had to come to a halt. On 27 January 2013, Sharad Joshi wrote to me: “We came together at one point and then drifted apart as if were nothing in concern. That was unfortunate since we have the whole liberal platform in common.”

One can’t go backwards in time. It is hard to explain what happened, and why. I’ll provide my views (well-documented, btw, since I should have all my emails – perhaps a hundred or so – with Sharad Joshi between 2004 and 2005 in my archival records somewhere – these were mostly one-sided emails, from me to him and others in the National Executive of Swatantra Bharat Party, urging them to do this or that).

Nevertheless, here’s something that Shetkari Sanghatna/Swatantra Paksha may wish to read before we meet. The full details including photos here. This was the occasion when Sharad Joshi was launched on the national scene and was able to raise some resources. I believe this was helpful in helping Sharad Joshi get a nomination to the Rajya Sabha. I believe this was helpful in helping Sharad Joshi get nomination to the Rajya Sabha. Of course, Sharad Joshi may have earned his seat on his own, as well.

I’m re-publishing Sharad Joshi’s speech on the final day (when almost all of us decided to join Swatantra Bharat Party), below (the transcript was organised by Rakesh Wadhwa).


Sanjeev’s workshop was in a class by itself. Firstly we had some very distinguished Liberals, secondly we had some people like Mr. Raju who had the distinction of being in the Swatantra Party, and who also leads the largest single group of Liberals called the “Indian Liberals Group”. So you can see that every worthwhile Liberal was represented in this workshop. 



Thank you, ladies & gentlemen.

Sanjeev promised a tea break sometime before the lunch really & I think that the tea break time has come & gone. My job is going to be to see that your lunch is not too delayed. This is a Seminar following on four days of Workshop. Around the table, sometimes we were very correct in our behavior, sometimes a little unruly and occasionally very uncouth. But what was important for all of us at that time was to thrash out issues and find some concrete solutions that would change the world. This was not a very soft pedal or cushion type of discussion. I would remember these four days as probably some of the most important days of my life. At the end of the four days workshop, we have a small meeting here. It’s called a Seminar. It’s a small meeting really and I would say that this is a small meeting, but probably a very big step for those who cherish the freedom of the individual and for every liberal.

Sanjeev has talked about me by name Sharad Joshi. Wadhwa has talked about me, and those of you; coming from Delhi, highly metropolitan, urban background, are worried, where did this Sharad Joshi pop up in this Liberal Seminar.

As they described, I am essentially a farm leader. I think I can claim that I started a whole new epoch in the Farm Movement. I came on the scene when people thought that agriculture was a way of life and nobody accepted that the farmer had to live and make an earning like everybody else, that it had to be a vocation based on an exchange of what the farmers produced with what was produced by the non-farmers. My contribution there was, very briefly: I established a thesis by abundant documentation and evidence, that after the British had left, after the white Britishers had left, the Black Britishers had taken over New Delhi. And they were exploiting the countryside and farmer exactly in the same manner as the old Britishers, keeping the prices of raw materials low and raising the prices of all secondary & tertiary goods.

Farmers are under a negative subsidy. That was the thesis I pointed out at that time; which was stoutly opposed by most economists in this country. I can say that there wasn’t any economist who stood by me at that time. The controversy continued until 1986 when as a part of the WTO negotiations, different Governments were required to state on paper with concrete figures and statistics, what was the policy followed by each government about their own farmers. Japanese declared that their policy was such:  I would try to put it in as uneconomical terms as possible — They stated that their policy was that if the cost of production of agriculture was 100 yen then somewhere in the market the farmer should be getting around 190 yen. The European Economic Committee put it on paper, that if the European farmer had spent 100 Francs, then he should be getting somewhere between 160-165 Francs. The Americans said that they tried to get for the American farmer against the cost of production of $100 something like $ 135. The Government of India, in the document – which is well preserved by me — it was put on the table of the Parliament, blandly accepted that the policy of the Government of India has been:  if the cost of production of an Indian farmer was Rs.183, that he should not get more than Rs. 100 in the market. This was the triumph of the thesis that I had presented at that time and now there is no doubt left. Negative subsidy to the farmer is no longer Sharad Joshi’s personal hobby. This is a fact that is now accepted by the Government of India itself.

After that I did do a lot of work beyond the farmers frontiers and am also the leader of possibly the worlds largest women’s organization, whose events are attended by, at any time, 200-300 thousand women. Now when you run an agitation, you can’t be strictly away from politics, because anybody who can gather, if need be, a million farmers whether it is in Maharashtra or Punjab or Uttar Pradesh, just cannot remain away from politics, by the sheer fact that he represents such large numbers. I was strictly an apolitical being, and like many of you, I thought politics was a dirty game and I should remain strictly away from it.

There were certain obligations and compulsions that came. I have myself been arrested and put in jail on 27 separate occasions in 8 different states in this country for no other crime except demanding rights for the farmers. I have had at a time, 728 criminal cases filed against me. I put all this before the workshop yesterday so that they should not make a mistake. If they would not like to have someone with that kind of a criminal record like me, then I would not be their person. For some time it was quite clear that the people have to go to jail and in my agitation, literally hundreds of thousands of farmers have gone to jail, and I modestly claim that the number of people who have gone to jail in my movement is larger than the number of people who went to jail in the entire independence movement.

Now they need some kind of a defense, some kind of a protection. Then you have to go to the court. Then you have to pay the fee of the lawyer, etc. And we found that we have to ensure that those who have gone to jail once don’t loose heart and are prepared to come out a second time for going to the jail. This is even more true about those who get even once hit by a police baton. If you get once hit by a police baton, it’s unlikely that you would come to face the police unless you are allowed to have a baton in your own hands.

Now if that is not easy then we have to device other mechanisms. We have to have necessary support from the political system that will obtain the objectives of the agitation. We were not interested in the elections then. But our experience has taught us and we have seen a succession of political parties since the Janta Dal, the BJP, and others, but no Government followed a different policy. They continued to follow, what I call the policy of negative subsidy for agriculture. So anybody who gets into the Government suddenly gets anti farmer. They talk of being good to the farmer during the election campaign. But once they get into the Mantralaya or Sachivalaya, they become indistinguishable from their predecessors.  We tried several types of policies. We helped the small thief against the big thief in the elections but soon it became very difficult to distinguish between who was the bigger thief and who was the smaller thief.

So we finally thought that we had to give up the policy of remaining away from politics. Narendra Swamy Naidu, who was the greatest peasant leader from Tamil Nadu (I consider him as my Guru), he once told me, “Mr. Joshi sometime back, you said you liked to remain away from politics, that was nice, that was good on your part. It’s like a young girl of 10 or 15 saying that Father I never want to get married. But when the time comes, she starts asking to get married and she needs to get married. Similarly, after every movement has attained a certain degree of maturity, it has got to enter politics.”

By that time socialism had collapsed. A new brand of politicians had come forward who offered not a political agenda but religious or communal or caste agenda. We had the dubious choice to make between a party that had exploited the farmer and another party who was trying to preach hatred for a mass of people because they belonged to a minority. How do you make the choice? What is the comparison? How do you make the comparison? Then we came to another conclusion that if we have the monsters of communalists we’ll support the economic tyrants rather than the communal monsters.

But all this could not go on for long. Ultimately we came to a point where our workers started complaining — that “we feel dirty about even to having to travel with these people”. In an election campaign you move with people with whom you form a temporary alliance. “We are used to clear and succinct logic but when we go to hear the speeches of the political leaders we feel as if we are getting dirty”. That was the kind of resistance.

At that time we thought that rather than going on shifting the names, shifting the alliances, shifting the electoral symbol — because every time you shift the election symbol your percentage of vote gets affected, we thought that we would go out on our own.

Shetkari Sangathana would not turn political because it was supposed to be a non-political farmers organization. Shetkari Sangathana should have a political visage where it should be able to take part in political activity.

With my great luck that at that time, Minoo Masani, who had taken a lot of interest in the farmers movement right from the beginning — advised me that we should call a small conclave of about 20 – 30 farm leaders from all over the country. We sat there. You remember Sanjeev, that on the first day I mentioned that the meeting that you convened reminded me of the meeting Minoo Masani called. On those four days we met in Lonavla, Minoo Masani insisted that we should become more frankly political & there were colleagues of mine who sort of beseeched Minoo Masani telling him — “Please spare Sharad Joshi. We’ve seen the hardship he’s gone through. We’ve seen how his family has broken up, and all that. Please spare him that.”

But all the same Minoo Masani said, “This is the need of the Liberal Movement today. I can’t see anybody today who has better credentials to run the liberal fight than Sharad Joshi has.” Because all through the Kisan Movement, our point was that it was the intervention of the State that was depriving the farmers of their legitimate income. And I stood for the Government remaining absolutely away from the agricultural commodity markets. In fact when the WTO came and the Dunkel Draft came for discussion, you might recall — some of you, that I was the only one who defended it. Practically every economist defends WTO today. That time I had said that if I met Mr. Dunkel, I’ll put the badge of my Sangathana (Farmers Organization) on his lapel.

That has been the kind of my background. I am essentially a farm man. But I was not born in a farmer’s family. I am possibly the only farm leader in India who was not born in a farmer’s family. There have been no farmers in at least five generations that I know.

When I came back to India from Switzerland, after a stint at the UN as Head of the Informatics Division, that’s my basic specialization, I had a big handicap. I was used to working in French for 15 years before I came back to India. And to make a switch over from French to Marathi, but to the kind of Marathi that is understood by the farmers, by the countryman, was really a big job. I was disqualified to be a farm leader on every count. If you issued an advertisement for an ideal Farm Leader, I would have failed on every count. But its God’s grace that I think it has somehow happened that in a matter of ten years somebody who was not having not even the basic qualifications to be a farmer, possibly received more affection from farmers and their families than anybody else in history has. And that has become my basic strength.

And then I decided that I should be used not only for solving the small problems of the farmers, by getting prices for onions, by getting prices for cotton or for getting prices for sugarcane, but other problems too. The largest movement that I ever led was for the “Karz Mukti” appeals, where I got 200 thousand farmers to file insolvency petitions in the courts to tell the court – “Have a check upon our economy and you will find that it is the Government who is responsible for our predicament. Then you should ask the Government to write off all the loans or permit us to start afresh.”

Now if I want to convey the message of freedom beyond the countryside, beyond the farmers, then I have to develop certain other contacts. And I have been doing this persistently over the last ten years. In fact, of the people who were present for the workshop, at least half were quite familiar with the work of the Shetkari Sangathana and with me. I never lost an occasion when the Liberals have come together in order to organize themselves in a better way.

Sanjeev’s workshop was in a class by itself. Firstly we had some very distinguished Liberals, secondly we had some people like Mr. Raju who had the distinction of being in the Swatantra Party, and who also leads the largest single group of Liberals called the “Indian Liberals Group”. So you can see that every worthwhile Liberal was represented in this workshop. Their agenda was — how do we go from here to take part in politics. Mr. Das already talked to you about the manner of the discussion. They came to the conclusion that there was no point in reinventing the wheel and if we wanted to start a new party, then it would require a lot of tedious work for getting the registration, for getting the symbol, and that would mean at least that apart from the hard work, that we will miss the elections that are likely to happen in the next 3-4 months. Time being short, that was certainly one consideration, if not spoken, at least in the minds of many people. They decided that we should give a try to the Swatantra Bharat Party which has followed a long tradition.

The liberal movement in India did not start with Rajaji. I would trace its history, at least that is what I have done in my book, to the Vedanta philosophy which was the basic philosophy which denies the role for any intermediary between the individual and the cosmos. In the … and the Brahmand, there is no intermediary that the Vedanta accepts. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying Hinduism. Because Vedanta belongs to the …. School of Philosophy, which does not come from the Vedas, but comes from the local schools in India. After that the British came and that is really a sort of quantum jump in Liberal thought, because the whole treasure of liberal thought was placed before us.

Among the first generation of Indian liberals, we should count among them Gokhale, who was so much a liberal and called a liberal by Mahatma Gandhi, Ram Mohan Roy before that and some of the names that are not commonly used in this context, but I consider them as more shiningly staunch liberals such as Jyoti Bajule from Maharashtra and Sir Chhotu Ram from Haryana, who was in a position to tell Mahatma Gandhi that he should not preach people to disobey laws. Law and order is a great gift given by the British to us and you should not break that. He also advised Gandhi not to bring in spiritualism into politics. These were the Liberals we had. Then Gandhi of course was a great liberal, liberal to the point of being an anarchist. Gandhi wanted — Gandhi is on record as having said, and I think that he wanted the British to go because of that, that their departure would be the beginning of the end of the State as an Institution. Unfortunately, most great men are defeated by their own disciples. And when independence came and when Gandhi was no more, his first and most favourite successor debunked Gandhism not only on economics but even on politics. Gandhi wanted the village to be at the centre of independent India, Nehru wanted cities to become important. Gandhi thought agriculture is important, Nehru thought industries are important. Gandhi thought State should have a minimum role to play that the private sector should have a preponderant influence on the economic development, but Nehruvian economics destroyed whatever ideas motivated the freedom movement.

And it was at this time that the next important step came about, about which you’ve already heard. Rajaji himself a great champion of the freedom movement, KM  Munshi, Masani, and a whole lot of people whom also I consider as my Gurus in the farners movement, all these people came together. They put up a fight for liberalization in times that were extremely difficult. That was an epoch that we will wonder about even a 100 years later. How could the whole humanity be duped by as empty a philosophy as Marxism? How is it that for many years, young people, even learned people, continued to think that socialism was the future? That was the time that Russia was one of the Super Powers and every now and then the number of Socialist countries was going up and most of the people were resigned to the idea that one day sooner or later we will become Socialist. It was at that time that Rajaji raised the flag of liberalization in opposition to Socialism.

Unfortunately his party fell a victim (I think I can say it because Mr. Raju is not present here) — I think that in political gimmickry, the Nehruvian dynasty came up smarter than any of the politicians, They succeeded in painting the Swatantra Party as the party of the Princes and the capitalists, which were bad words at that time. If today someone says today he’s a capitalist, it’s a good thing for him and good thing for me if he is a capitalist. But in those days “Garibi Hatao” was the slogan and in spite of the fact that Swatantra Party got most of its MPs elected from the countryside constituencies, and not one of them from the metropolitan cities, Nehru and Indira Gandhi succeeded in creating a smoke screen that this was essentially not a common man’s party. They could not last the Indira wave that came after the Bangladesh war.

Suddenly a new development happened. That was around the eighties — and that contribution to the liberal movement comes from the farmers movement in India, which demanded no help. Which asked the Government just to take off its “cotton-picking hands” and get off their chests so that they could manage, so that they could mind their own business. That was the movement that continued for the last 25 years and I must say honestly that what this movement, particularly what the Shetkari Sangathana in Maharashtra has said, now constitutes the basic draft on agriculture of the World Trade Organization. That is the kind of vindication that has happened.

But after that again, once again, we liberals thought that we were sort of lost in the woods. We succeeded in defeating Socialism, but in the process the economic agenda as a whole got defeated. And on the agenda came the Ramas and the Shivaji’s, the castes, and the Mandals and things like that, with the result that one started wondering, that those who followed wrong economics — were they not better than those who talked of Rama as the God of hatred?

I think this is when you and I and all of us here are stepping in this is an extremely difficult period.

There is no person in the world today or at least in India today, who proudly states that he is a socialist. Most of them would be in lunatic asylums in any case, because it has been proved that it doesn’t work; but the forces of socialism are not exhausted and over. The people who benefited under the socialist regime — in Shetkari Sangathana we have coined a very good expression for that “neta, taskar, goonda, afsar” these are the people who benefited under the socialist rule, — they are trying their best to organize themselves to oppose the advent of liberalization. That’s what’s going to happen in Mumbai, where the Social Forum people are coming together. That is what happened in Seattle, that is what happened till Cancun in Genoa. Those so-called champions of the poor people are able to rally hundreds of thousands of people as far away as in Cancun in Mexico or Seattle in the US, to see to it that the WTO organs are not able to function.

Thieves gang up much better than the Liberals do. Liberal organization is a sort of contradiction of terms. Those who get unearned benefits walk together and they are able to resist the advent of the liberal movement.

And if now anybody thinks that the major hurdle is removed, that the USSR has fallen, that Nehruvian planning has fallen, now all that remains is to put a flag of liberalisation, they are sadly mistaken.

The worst and the most difficult fights are ahead of us. It is at such a time that this workshop was held, it is at this time that at the end of this workshop, seminar and this small meeting, that I have been given an extremely difficult task, of ensuring that in the immediate future, in the coming elections, the liberals, the Liberal party  — the Swatantra Bharat Party, becomes at least a nationally recognized party.

Could we have done that? Even if this workshop had never happened and if this seminar had never happened, Swatantrata Bharat Party has decided to go ahead and take part in these elections.

Shetkari Sangathana has brother farmer organizations or sister fanner organizations in 14 states out of which we have selected 4 where we have seen participation of hundreds of thousands of farmers in our events. We are going to fight in Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. In these five states we are hoping that out of these, at least in four states we’ll get at least 6% of the votes. That’s all that is required for recognition. You need to get 6% of the vote in a state and if you get 6% of the votes in 4 states, you get national recognition. Which means that … (end of cassette) (beginning of cassette) ….. takes place.

The first thing that has to be done for keeping the liberal fight going is to ensure that kind of voter turnout in the coming elections, which may not be more than 3-4 months ahead.

I am glad that with the strength that I have amassed, piece by piece over the last 25 years, I am recognized, in spite of my appearances, in spite of the fact that I don’t wear a dhoti, in spite of the fact that I don’t smoke a hukka, that I’m essentially a farm leader. But every farm leader is put in the basket of Tikait and therefore people do not immediately think of any other dimension.

This workshop has put a sort of a seal of approval on what Swatantrata Bharat Party has done. We had a national convention in the month of November in Mumbai. We’ve come out with a vivid, detailed electoral manifesto. All of you can have access to it on the website, even on Sanjeev’s website. And I would even at this stage welcome any comments or suggestions that you may have to make about this electoral manifesto.

The whole electoral manifesto was summarized in my speech at the Plenary, which was attended by a gathering, which was much larger than the gathering which attended the recent Sonia’s meeting at the same venue. We gave certain messages, No. 1 – That the slogan of dictatorship for the poor labourer has brought the world to a disaster. Mrs. Thatcher talked of the democracy of the entrepreneur. We would like to talk about the democracy of those who feed others, those who actually produce. No. 2 – The slogan was that we are also trying to get into power, but others want to get into power, so that they can wield power, for giving patronage, for patronizing people and getting a greater share of votes. We are seeking power so that the institution of the State may be dissolved and we may have a society where there are plural governments.

I’ll explain this idea taking a minute, because I think it’s very important. I am not against the State. I am not for the abolition of the State. On the contrary I want a very strong state when it comes to law and order. Unless you have law and order — it was something that was done in the earlier days of the East India Company where the East India Company government, created a situation where as they say – you can put a piece of gold on your shoulder and go up to Kashi and nobody will molest you. But the thugs have returned and the law and order is completely destroyed. What you read in the newspapers is the return of the thuggery and unless law and order is established, liberal society and liberal economy is impossible. If I can’t get my contract enforced in a court of law in say three months (today it takes 3 generations to get a contract done), its not going to be possible to have a liberal society. We have spelt out in great details the manner in which the law and order needs to be restored, the manner in which the legal system should be changed, the manner in which the economic system should be changed.

The most important lesson is — in an election political leaders get elected on the basis of one man per vote, ie. one-man one vote. If you get elected on that basis then you have authority only in dealing with situations where all men are equal, and all men are equal only in case of law, order and security. Laloo Prasad’s who get elected in political elections have no business to try and decide who’ll be the Vice Chancellor of Patna University, or any one who gets elected on the basis of one man one vote, has no business to take on the work of Mother Teresa, because looking after the weak and the poor is the job of essentially those people who are moved by piety and who don’t try to earn money in fodder.

The only model of pro- poor or poverty eradication program that has succeeded in India are the langars in Gurudwaras – where you can go to stay for 7 days and eat, and you will find that there are no mendicants among Sikhs in Punjab. In all other states you have mendicants. That’s a demonstrated example of a good ideal poverty eradication program.

Those who talked of poverty eradication and garibi hatao have only increased garibi and we’ll have to formulate an alternative plan where the preponderant importance is given to those who produce wealth and which provides for encouragement and support to those who need help but there will be no free lunching that will be permitted in that system.

We have a whole electoral manifesto which is put forward.

I was looking for certain assistance. I have talked so far about the strong points of this movement and the Swatantra Bharat Party, but we have suffered from the fact that we were an outfit of rural origin and most city people don’t even know me. Sanjeev said that he heard about me only when he came here, or probably only a few days before that. That rather surprised me, because at least over the last five years UPSC examination, in the objective papers, my name has figured thrice, and I think that in the last 20 years, I have been for delivering a lecture in the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy in Mussoorie on at least in 12 occasions. That is a great advantage, because at least the Police Officers that have heard me and the Collectors who have heard me at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy, are probably a little sparing when they order lathi charge or shooting.

Now I have yo cross the limitations that came with the good work. I lack a number of things; one thing, even though I mentioned that I was Chief of Informatics Services in the United Nations, essentially dealing with utilization of informatics, it is those who stand for the return of socialism who use the internet and the modern technology for communication to greater advantage. The whole Seattle was manipulated on the basis of internets and e-mails.

I want to have a good communications system, I want to have a research system, a think tank, I can say with a certain degree of pride, that all the new changes that happened in agriculture economics, happened in my own village in Ambetham over the last 20 years. But I am growing old. I need help and if there is something like a think tank with people who will support to the research that is necessary the liberal movement of the farmers will not go in the wrong way.

I of course need funds. I was attending a discussion on the periphery on elections and one of the leaders, I would not mention his name or party, he said that the for contesting a legislative assembly election this time, even the last candidate would have to spend something like 25 lakh rupees. The bigger parties would spend probably a crore on paper but actually much more. Now this is not my strength.

I was telling the other day, someone handed over, after the workshop, in one sum, one lakh rupees for the work of the SBP, and I said this is the largest sum I’ve ever seen handed over to the SBP.

In previous elections when we contested 212 seats, our total expenditure for all the seats was 12 lakh of rupees, which was mostly spent on advertising.

I want help from you.

I accepted the responsibility. I know my mandate. I have to see that the liberal party, the SBP, gets recognized as a National Party in the near future. But I want help from you, on studies, on communications, on campaign management and most important funds.

I have put a very modest estimate: I would need to perform my job in a fairly satisfactory manner a sum of 12 crores. I think some of you, those who know politics will laugh at this because Mulayam Singh’s budget is 2,400 crores. Now if that’s the kind of job that you are giving me, for making liberalism stay, then I’m not saying that you should give me that kind of a sum. What is required as a liberal is that you should do the best you can. Because I am doing the best I can.

I’ve been doing the best I can for the last 25 years. I wish you to come at this crucial stage and see that the task of making liberalization survive is made as easy as possible. But I know the difficulty of the task. I’ve to face people who say we’ll give you two rupees per kilo paddy, Bala Sahib Thakerey in Mumbai said we’ll give you one rupee “Mulka Bhaka”. People vote for promises like that, because the general voter’s psychology is that no leader elected coming out of this election is ever going to do any good for the country as a whole. A voter feels like a defeated army. Each one unto himself and the weakest take the hindmost. Now what they want is somebody who gets elected who will give them some personal help — who will throw some kind of a stick to clutch at, somebody who will give his son a job, who will give some sort of an assistance, some utensils, some dhotis, some sarees etc. That is unfortunately the situation of the voter today.

And if I go before that electorate, what is the message I’m talking about? I’m saying that you will stand on your own feet. Your reward will be strictly proportional to the merit you have and the competence you have. His reaction is going to be, what do we need you for? He doesn’t understand that all the governments up to now have been working to deny competent people their legitimate reward.

I know that politically the job that you have given me is impossible because people have not come to a point where they can vote with a larger perspective.

When I was in Switzerland — you know we have a lot of referendums in Switzerland, and the first referendum that I heard of while I was staying in Berne, was a proposal to increase the fares of the trams, which were still running in Berne. When I came to India a lot of trams were burnt down – people protesting against the increase of tram fare in Calcutta,  and I was surprised that in the referendum the people of Berne overwhelmingly voted for the hike of the tram fares. We don’t have a voter like that.

The voter is going to know, if he doesn’t know today, little by little in a few years time, he is going to come to know, that protection and the system of free lunches don’t work. The only way that we can survive, the earth can survive, is through the liberal way. But till that time happens it is going to be a very impossible and odd kind of fight.

I had determined some 20 years back that the job that I have undertaken is an important job. I have decided to keep the flag flying no matter what odds I have to face till what’s politically impossible today becomes politically inevitable, and that’s the day I’m working towards.

And I am glad that Sanjeev has given me this opportunity of meeting you.

You all have the possibility of trying to make up for some of the basic deficiencies which are holding back the liberal movement.

At the time of the Swatantra it must be said that at least the Tatas stood by Minoo Masani, because Minoo Masani was an employee of the Tata, — they helped him along in a big way. Today’s industrialists have managed a new way of dealing with politicians. Rather than giving them any money (some they have to give in any case), they have learnt the art of manipulating the license permit system to their advantage. This is the great contribution of Dhirubhai Ambani — that you can always manipulate the license permit system to your advantage, and therefore they do not attach much importance to the liberal movement as a theory or as a force. What they are interested in doing is – if the socialist movement, steers clear of them, they are prepared to survive and coexist with that kind of a system.

Once I was visiting a friend who was annoyed about an inspector who demanded 500 rupees, and he gave him the 500 rupees. And I asked him why are you doing it? You are such a highly qualified person and any inspector comes and you give a bribe of 500? He said, “You don’t know the nuisance power of the inspector. Once I decided not to give the money, that inspector sent a report that the ceiling of my canteen is 9 inches lower than what it ought to be under the rules. Therefore I had to bring down the whole ceiling and it meant a lot of expenditure, so its much better that I give him 500 rupees and finish with it”. I said. “Why don’t you fight against this”? His reply was, “We don’t have a leader like you”. I said, “I’m prepared to lead you on one condition, on the condition that you will want real liberalism. You will get protection from the inspector from me, but you’ll have to get prepared to give up the advantages you get out of the license permit system”. His reply was, “We want to be free, but we don’t want to be that free”.

Now my appeal to you is — for sometime when we switch over from the socialist pattern to the liberal pattern, it’s going to mean hard days. I’m not at all going to deny that some of the Indian entrepreneurs will have to face very hard days. Farmers are committing suicide and I think very shortly, we might start hearing even of small-scale industrialists committing suicide. That’s bound to happen. My job is to steer the whole nation clear of this particular transition. My job is like, I gave the example in the workshop — after the wedding, when the bride has to be carried to the nuptial chamber, she knows that her happiness lies there, her future lies there, all the same she is terribly apprehensive and full of fear. At that time there has to be some old matron, putting her hand on her feet, chaperoning her and telling her and encouraging her to take the last necessary steps. I think that is the role of the liberals today in an extremely difficult period.

When the socialist forces are rallying strength, the people at large are required to be encouraged to take the last steps to provide a political leadership that will see that the impediments that stood in the way of Indians shining on the basis of their merit are removed.

And that India becomes a world-class power as it has every right to claim.

Thank You.

Continue Reading