Sanjeev Sabhlok's blog

Thoughts on economics and liberty

Now I’m concerned! Baba Ramdev’s ideas must change.

Over the past few weeks I've steadily become more aware of Baba Ramdev's work. His avid fans write to me, asking me to watch this video or that.

I don't have time to watch videos, but did watch one – where Rajiv Dixit and Baba Ramdev spoke – and found it amazing in terms of the ignorance about world history displayed by Dixit, and his praise for Mao Tse Tung and other communists! I haven't watched more videos but I do hope that Mr Dixit is not advocating communism!

Next I discovered that Baba Ramdev wants to ban cow slaughter. I found it to be a misguided viewpoint and tantamount to religious interference in the affairs of the state.

Following a link sent to me today by one of his fans I came across (do  read this page).

Now I'm beginning to become concerned! I'm not yet alarmed but concerned that Baba Ramdev might be biting off more than he can chew. It is not necessary for an outstanding yogi to also be an outstanding engineer. So also Baba Ramdev is excellent in yoga but  VERY weak in policy. He also has no one within his group that can advise him on policy.

Take two examples:

1) 100% boycott of foreign companies, adoption of ‘swadeshi’

This a seriously misguided. If swadeshi means what it should mean in Hindi, then the website of Baba Ramdev should be shut down, for NONE of it was invented in India. Everything underpinning the website including electricity, the transistors, the integrated chips, the internet infrastructure, the software was developed OUTSIDE India. The atomic theory, the entire physics behind it, was developed outside India. 

If he is serious about swadeshi, Baba will also need to ensure that all Indians shut off their electricity and stop using bicycles, cars, buses, trains, and planes. And he should immediately stop using his mobile phone. And so on… 

Is the Baba aware of how badly misguided this policy is! He needs to read about how wealth is created. He can start with Adam Smith, or at least chapters 2 and 3 of BFN.

2) We will adopt nationalist thought 100%, and while in our personal lives we observe Hindu, Islam, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, etc. religious traditions, in our public lives we will live like a true Bharatiya.

I have no objection in principle with this but this statement is DEEPLY contradicted by the Baba's other statements. What is a Bharatiya? To find an answer to this question we can seek guidance from two other statements: (a) 100% yoga-oriented nation; and (b) ban on cow slaughter (i.e. no one to eat beef).

With re: to (a) I'm a great fan of yoga since it helped me immensely as part my cure of RSI (see my RSI cure website here). I attend at least one yoga class each week even now (apart from a Pilates class, and many other things I do at the gym/pool). But what if someone doesn't want to practice yoga? Is that person not Bharatiya? Isn't such an objective by a political front a blatant encroachment of religious views on the affairs of society?

Second, (b) – i.e. ban on cow slaughter – contradicts the religious freedom of Muslims and Christians (and many Hindus as well) to eat beef. How can people live their personal life as Muslims or Christians but be forbidden by the state to eat beef?

Note that statement (2) is good in principle, but because Baba Ramdev is not an advocate of freedom, he is mixing up good things with bad. Yes, people must not, as statement (2) states, mix their religion in the affairs of the nation. But therefore also, Baba Ramdev can't ask people to take up yoga or forbid their eating beef if they want to – just because he is a Hindu. What if Baba Ramdev was born a Muslim? Would he then say such things? How can our policy positions be based on the beliefs of the family to which we were born?

He is advocating religious interference in the affairs of state, and he doesn't understand policy. India can never become a free nation or a successful nation with such policies.

Tentative conclusion

Nothing from what I have read, watched (on video) or understood about Baba Ramdev so far convinces me that he is capable of delivering even remotely on his fundamental promise of honest good governance. He will fail since he doesn't understand policy and doesn't understand the causes of India's corruption and misgovernance. His team, e.g. people like Dixit do not seem capable of achieving anything either (from what I have gathered so far, given that they also presumably agree to such policies).


True, Baba Ramdev is very popular, and he WILL influence Indian politics. But the results won't be what his followers want. From what he seems to be advocating I can now safely predict the following:

a) His party will take half of BJP's vote but barely a single Congress vote. Both BJP and his party will fare badly in the elections as a result, making it VERY EASY for Congress to win.

b) Even if his party and BJP undertake seat adjustments, and manage to win a majority together and form a coalition, the coalition will fail to provide good governance because neither BJP nor his party understand policy

In either scenario, India is doomed to further misgovernance. Congress – the totally corrupt socialist organisation will rule, or BJP/Baba Ramdev coalition will rule – which is totally confused about policy.

Solution: The solution for India is very simple. We need a clearly liberal group that understands how to govern and create excellent outcomes for all Indians. That group is FTI. Its policies will ENSURE the abolition of corruption and illiteracy, among other things. No one else can provide Indians what they desperately want: peace, good education, honest governance, health, and wealth. NO OTHER GROUP IN INDIA CAN ENSURE THAT. ZERO CHANCE. IMPOSSIBLE! Sawaal hi paida nahin hota.

Unless – of course, Baba Ramdev's ideas change, and he takes a crash course on policy. He can take a crash course in policy by reading BFN. That should be the first book on policy for anyone who wants to reform India. Just like people need to read a book by an expert physicist in order to understand gravity, so also they can start with BFN to understand policy. I can take yoga classes from him. He can take policy classes from me. Let the best that India can offer be made available to the people of India. Let us not get our Policy from a Yogi, nor Yoga from me!

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Freedom of expression: a great challenge for India

By Sanjeev Sabhlok (Published in Freedom First, August 2010)

British liberal philosophers were perhaps the first to advocate freedom of expression, none more eloquently than J.S. Mill in his 1859 essay, On Liberty. India imbibed some of these ideas during British rule. And despite the corruption rampant in the Indian press – where news can be readily purchased – we do have a broadly free press.

But we never internalised the idea of liberty. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was banned (among many other books since independence). The screening of Da Vinci Code wasprohibited. Our governments failed to protect Deepa Mehta during the making of her film, Water, and D.N.Jha was similarly force to publish his book, The Myth of the Holy Cow,outside India. Our governments readily cave in to the flimsiest threat from our millions of rabid fundamentalists.
I’m not suggesting that anyone has absolute freedom of expression. That’s not what I’m saying. All I’m suggesting is that India has to do far more if it wants to become a free society. The examples below will illustrate how this can be done.
Electoral funding limits
Even a cursory understanding of the concept of liberty will make clear to us that imposing arbitrary limits on electoral funding is incompatible with liberty. Citizens of the free society must remain free to conduct any legitimate activity, and in doing so to spend any amount they wish. We must remain free to fund the religion of our choice or to advertise our products. So too, nothing should prevent us from spending any amount on our preferred political party or candidate. After all, freedom of belief in ideas is the most fundamental of all freedoms.
But socialists see red with such a suggestion. They rush in with paternalistic arguments to prevent people from supporting a political philosophy of their choice. They tell us that the Indian voter is a fool, highly susceptible to political advertising. But in reality the Indian voter displays greater maturity and wisdom than our socialist intellectuals. The Indian voter is smart enough to listen to all sides (and even take unsolicited gifts from the wealthier candidates) but vote, in the secrecy of the polling booth, for his own choice.
Setting whimsical limits on electoral expenses is also an act of hypocrisy, for such limits, we know, are invariably violated – particularly by our major political parties. These totally corrupt parties not only use crores of rupees of black money but billions of dollars of foreign funds, stashed away in Switzerland. Fraudulent accounts are then lodged and they pretend that they have spent within the limit! What a fraud on democracy! Utter hypocrisy.
In brief, all limits of expenditure on political activity must be abolished. Instead, mechanisms to strongly enforce the disclosure of political receipts and expenditures must be put in place. In addition, reforms detailed in my book, Breaking Free of Nehru (, are needed. If clean money promotes political ideas, even socialism, then we will have nothing to fear. It is only hypocrisy, use of foreign funds, fraud, and corruption that we must be afraid of. Let there be honesty. And freedom of expression.
Flag burning
Now consider someone who, upon being convinced that his freedoms have been trampled upon, burns the national flag in protest. Doesn’t attack anyone, just burns the flag. Is that a crime?
Certainly it is, in India. The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 provides for imprisonment of up to three years, or fine, or both, for anyone who, in public view, mutilates, defaces, defiles, disfigures, destroys, tramples on, or otherwise brings the National Flag into ‘contempt’. But I believe this position is entirely contrary to liberty.
I do not make this assertion lightly. I claim that our flag must be defended with our own life. But on the other hand, no citizen is likely to take the extreme step of burning the flag, casually. Such an act signals that something is seriously wrong. We would be better off as a nation if we investigate the cause of the unrest, instead of focusing on the incident of flag burning.
More importantly, we must take a serious lesson in liberty from the US which has ruled out the criminalisation of flag burning. In 2006, an amendment to the US Constitution was proposed by someone to prohibit flag burning. But the US Senate rejected this amendment.
Senator Daniel K. Inouye, who lost an arm in World War II, fighting for USA, said that flag burning ‘is obscene, painful and unpatriotic’, … ‘[b]ut I believe Americans gave their lives in the many wars to make certain that all Americans have a right to express themselves – even those who harbor hateful thoughts.’[1]
Such unequivocal commitment to freedom is what America teaches us. Our heart goes out to America for clarifying the standard of liberty even on such an evocative issue. Hundreds of its own soldiers die in wars to protect the American flag, but these very same soldiers insist on defending the right of their fellowmen to burn that flag. That is why they fight for. For freedom. The true flag we must fight for is the flag of freedom. The national flag must subordinate its claims to those of liberty.
Artistic ‘license’
It has become fashionable these days for artists and writers, claiming artistic ‘license’, to brazenly insult Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and other religions. But they are wrong in doing so. They have no such license. While an analytic critique of a religion is fine, vilification and abuse of a religion is not.
Artists must stop being stupid. They must exercise self-restraint. In no way are they special, or exempt from the laws of the land. Everyone’s liberty is subject to the same standard of accountability.
But what about those artists who refuse to exercise self-restraint? What can be done about them? Should we ban their work or kill them? Clearly not! Three things must happen in the free society, as outlined below.
First, we must develop a thick skin. As they say, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’. We must tolerate others’ opinions, no matter how tasteless.
Second, an offensive piece of art can constitute a civil offence. The plaintiff in such a case will need to prove that he tossed and turned in bed for, say, five hours because of the offensive art. The court would compensate the plaintiff for the value of this lost sleep. Class-action suits could also be lodged against the offending artist.
But third, no matter what happens, there can never be any cause for violence being used against the artist. The government must put behind bars anyone who browbeats an artist. Even stupid artists deserve to be protected.
Freedom Team of India
Let’s be clear about this, though, that no existing major political party in India will step forward to defend our liberties. They are more interested in forcing socialism or Hindutva down our throat. A political platform focused on the defence of our freedoms is therefore desperately needed. The Freedom Team of India ( is working towards such a platform. Please join or otherwise support FTI. Become a Freedom Partner!

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Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani deserves justice

Unfortunately I don't have much time to write more on this topic at the moment, but just a quick comment to condemn the Iranian regime's treatment of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for alleged adultery and murder.

The issue is not whether she is innocent and should be spared. I'm not capable of passing a judgement on that. The issue is whether she received a fair trial. The issue is the barbaric threat to kill her by stoning.

All lovers of liberty and believers in humanity should vigorously condemn this barbaric behaviour of the Iranian government. Barbaric practices that were tolerated (even accepted) in the past, such as death by stoning, are simply not acceptable today.

I am NOT an opponent of capital punishment which I believe has merit in certain cases (more on that separately some other day, but there is a discussion in DOF if you are interested), but two things MUST be followed before someone's life is taken by the state:

a) Fair and free trial under a well-established rule of law that is compliant with best practice in justice.

b) Death with dignity.

Therefore, should Ashtiani be found after a fair and free trial to be a heinous murderer, then arrangements for a respectful way to take her life ought to be made. 

In this case, (a) has not been met, so (b) does not apply.  


There are many articles on this subject and if time permits I'll list a few of them here, but this one caught my attention today. It argues the Ashtiani case but also broadens the discussion to the status of women everywhere, including in India.  J.S. Mill would have approved.

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Reject poison, accept liberty and humanity

The internet has allowed all kinds of people to get their message across. Misinformation, disinformation and dangerous ideas are passed on equally as are good ideas. That is the price we pay for liberty, for freedom of expression across the internet.

I won't name the person who sent me this message, but note that he bears an Indian name. The poisonous message reads thus:

Not a single rupee from any true Indian or India should go Porkistan. While the flood is destroying Porkistan, they still sending terrorists everyday in India and Paki Rangers firings at the Indian posts killing our guards such is their mentality. Besides, 70% of the donations will be nicked by those scoundrels anyway. We need to be strong with rogues and enemies. An enemy is a enemy only, show no mercy.

I've asked this person to unsubscribe me from his poisonous messages. Not my kind of thinking.

I agree that foreign aid often goes to fund corrupt dictators, but surely we must not become inhuman just because bad elements from Pakistan are constantly harming India. I don't know what is the best way to reach out to the millions of people affected by the worst floods in 80 years, but surely humanity requires us to help our neighbour, particularly the innocent ordinary citizens of Pakistan who are not the ones causing trouble for India.

Through this post I appeal to all Indians to reject all messages of hate and work towards the day when South Asia will be re-united, if not as a nation then at least as a customs union (I'm not in favour of monetary unions, given the experience of EU).

On this Independence day let us work towards liberty and humanity. 

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