Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Freedom First articles

Reservations are incompatible with freedom and justice

Equal freedom is the foundational principle of liberalism. It refers to equal political status which includes equality under the law. In addition, associated with this idea is a (lower order) claim to the social minimum which ensures reasonable equality of opportunity.
Institutional discrimination by Indian socialists
Flowing not from the ideas of freedom and justice but from the confused socialist thinking with concepts such as social justice and ‘justice of yesterday’, the Indian socialists instituted a reservations policy initially meant for ten years but which now shows no signs of ever going away. This policy tries claims to ensure a level playing field for tribes and lower caste Hindus through reverse discrimination!
Yes, Hinduism has had a long-standing practice of caste discrimination. This was one of my reasons to reject Hinduism. (That I reject all religions – not God! – is another story.) But the reservations policy has dealt with caste discrimination in the wrong manner and worsened things for everyone in India.
India thus has a self-contradictory Constitution. On the one hand, Article 15 (1) states: ‘The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them’. But on the other, the Constitution asks the state to discriminate! Schizophrenic! Part XVI splits Indians into the scheduled castes and tribes, and the rest. Each category is then treated differently. Article 335 enables the ‘relaxation in qualifying marks in any examination or lowering the standards of evaluation’ for various classes of citizens.
India’s deeply confused socialist thinking has gone so far down the drain that recently the Rajya Sabha passed the Women’s Reservations Bill as a first step towards the 108th Constitutional Amendment. The Bill aims to reserve thirty three per cent Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies seats for women! Socialism is going great guns! India has achieved a state of mind where reason no longer works.
Reservations reject equal freedom and justice
Why are reservations wrong? First, by violating the Constitutional mandate (and the minimum expectation of a free society) for a non-discriminatory state, reservations deny equal political status. While sociologists and anthropologists may well survey and research tribal and caste issues, the Indian government should recognize only one category of citizen: the Indian.
Second, reservations violate justice (note that I always refer to individual justice, there being no meaningful conception of ‘social’ justice). By constitutionally denying the primacy of merit in the public sphere, the reservations policy perpetrates grave injustice on those who had nothing personally to do with caste discrimination. If anyone discriminates, by all means have a law to investigate and individually punish the person, but it is totally improper to blacklist everyone who is not a ‘scheduled’ caste or tribe or (now) female.
It is morally obnoxious and intolerable for a government to harm innocents in order to (allegedly) ‘set right’ the wrongs that some people long dead might have committed. Two wrongs never make a right.
This immoral socialist policy has so deeply harmed our psyche that people today clamour tobe called “backward”! There is no better sign of the moral depravation of this policy than this, that an erstwhile proud people now want to be known as backward!
Indeed, by recognizing castes and tribes in the Constitution, we have increased caste-based discrimination, and made it much harder for Hindu social reformers to address this social evil. As a result, today our voters know their politicians not though policies but through caste.
In a free society all social issues must be addressed by the relevant social group (in this case the Hindus). Thus Ambedkar, the brilliant low caste Hindu scholar, addressed discrimination by rejecting Hinduism and joining Buddhism. Such mass exodus could prompt reform, but now no lower caste person has any incentive to leave, such juicy positions are on offer if you remain backward!
Personally, I would suggest an exodus to reason, but whatever strategy social reformers choose, a government has clearly no business to get involved.
Similarly, better representation of women in parliaments should be advanced by political parties, not by governments. Sweden doesn’t reserve seats for women but its political parties have a norm by which 50 per cent of their candidates are women. As a result, women now constitute 45 per cent of Swedish parliamentarians. It is clear that the solution is for India’s political parties (particularly those hankering for this reservations bill!) to inner party reform, not for the government to enact this grossly inappropriate Bill.
Governments should ensure equal freedom
A government should focus on ensuring reasonable equal opportunity for all without reducing equal political status or violating individual justice. It is quite likely that in playing a neutral role (detailed below) focused solely on freedom and justice, a government will also indirectly achieve social reform.
a) Prohibit discrimination in public office
The government should set minimum standards of behaviour and punish those who violate these standards in relation to public positions. Thus, an Equal Opportunity Act can ‘enforce everyone’s right to equality of opportunity,’ by eliminating, ‘as far as possible, discrimination against people by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of various attributes’[1] in relation to public office. This law would clarify and enforce Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution.
b) Enforce the rule of law
The government should enforce the rule of law equally, without fear or favour. Apart from ensuring that all government decisions are made on merit, this will also mean that a government can never ask us questions about our religion or caste. These are private matters.
c) Ensure reasonable equality of opportunity
Finally, the government should ensure that poverty is eliminated and all children receive high quality education to age 18 or twelfth standard, whichever comes first. This will involve a total reform of the school education system on the lines I had proposed in the July 2009 issue of Freedom First. I expect these reforms will take three years to take effect (details in Breaking Free of Nehru).
Transitional arrangements
Taking things from the current state to the new state will need transitional arrangements, particularly given our socialist frameworks and virtually non-existent equality of opportunity. The current reservation system should therefore continue as is until the government ensures high quality education for all children and eliminates poverty. Such reforms, once the people’s mandate is received, will take three years. After that is done, all reservations must go.
Let us work towards the day when governments in India will see us as Indians (and only as Indians), and enable the best man or woman win in every field. No longer should we encourage the shameful desire by some Indians to be called ‘backward’! Let’s all go forward, not backward.

Freedom Team of India

The Freedom Team of India (FTI) ( is looking for leaders to bring freedom and good governance to India. Each month through my article I invite my readers to either join FTI or to support it (for instance, as Freedom Partners, and financially). There is a lot of angst building up in India. Let us not delay any longer the political movement for freedom that India desperately needs.

By Sanjeev Sabhlok, published in Freedom First, October 2010

[1] This is a paraphrase of the objectives of the Victorian Government’s Equal Opportunity Act.


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Religious freedom in the free society

Tolerance and respect for others’ opinions is the basis of religious freedom – the distinguishing hallmark of the free society. This month I briefly review how mankind discovered tolerance. I then ask whether India is tolerant. Finally, I outline the religious freedom policy of the Freedom Team of India (FTI:

The History of Religious Freedom
Intolerance has been the norm throughout most of human history. Organised religions have spearheaded this intolerance, their surface claims of love for humanity masking their support for brutal violence against those who hold different views. Collectivist, even tribal in their origin (often geographically localised), organised religions think of life as a zero-sum game with the loss of one ‘soul’ from a particular religion being seen as another’s gain. There is, in consequence, a ferocious competition to harvest our souls.  
It is true that, as Vivekananda noted, it is not necessarily the founders who stoked intolerance, but their followers. “The disciples of all prophets have always inextricably mixed up the ideas of the Master with the person, and at last killed the ideas for the person. But it hardly matters to the innocent child killed in religious violence whose ideas killed him – the founder’s or a follower’s.
The modern conception of tolerance has taken an inordinately long time to develop. Nascent forms of tolerance arose in ancient Persia and India. Thus, “[t]he Hindus had one peculiar idea – they never made any doctrines or dogmas in religion; and the latter has had the greatest growth” (Vivekananda). In its policy on religious tolerance, FTI accepts that India should be proud of this history of tolerance. It is important to remember, however, that the ancient Hindu conception was not a theoretical formulation but an experiential practice, a loosely defined way of life. Hindu tolerance therefore frays easily when stressed, often being skin-deep. On the other hand, religions now often classified as intolerant, like Islam, had some episodes of (relative) tolerance in the past.
But it is Christianity that makes the loudest claims about its “contributions” to tolerance. Robert A. Sirico goes further, claiming that “[i]t is Christianity that lies at the root of the body of ideas we know today as classical liberalism”[1]. This view is factually incorrect. In my draft manuscript, The Discovery of Freedom[2] (DOF), I show clearly that the modern conception of tolerance was a reaction to internecine massacres within Christendom, not a consequence of its positive advocacy of religious harmony.
The credit for laying the theoretical foundation for tolerance must go squarely to liberal philosophers like John Locke (1632-1704). Locke cited a few never-practiced elements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to advocate “[t]he toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion”[3]. Voltaire (1694-1778) shamed Christendom with his commentary on the massacre in Béziers. Only then did Christendom begin to move away from its 1,500-year history of mindless brutality.
The modern liberal voice has been institutionalised through constitutionally protected tolerance. Even Christianity now speaks of tolerance. In the 1965 Declaration of Religious Freedom, Pope Paul VI wrote that “the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” One only hopes that all organised religions will one day internalise this idea of the philosophers of liberty.
Religious Freedom Under Siege in India
The level of religious freedom in India declined precipitously with the advent of Islam, particularly in reaction to fanatics like Aurgangzeb who overshadowed relatively benign kings like Akbar. A bitter taste from religious excess disrupted relations between Hindus and Muslims. During India’s independence movement, a few unthinking statements and actions by the leaders exacerbated the existing rift. This led to the partition of India on religious grounds – a grievous blow to liberalism, formalising as it did, at least implicitly, a place for religion in the affairs of the state
Post-independence, India’s major political parties did not try to clearly separate the jurisdictions of the state and religion. Instead, our lawmakers enacted laws for specific religious communities in the Indian Parliament. Our major political parties identify themselves with religion: one provides state-based subsidies for Muslims; the other insists on a greater role for Hindus. Communal tensions continue to fester below the surface, ready to explode at the slightest provocation. Religious freedom is under siege in India. This has had adverse impacts on freedom of expression as well, as I discussed in my articlein Freedom First in July 2010.
One would even suggest that religious fundamentalism is stronger today than it was ever before. Believers in Hindutva reject the idea of religious freedom altogether and want to re-open ancient wounds (at least that is the inference one draws from the writing and actions of those who claim to follow this ideology). Therefore, even after living in India for nearly a thousand years, Muslims do not always feel welcome – which is not to say that they have always helped their own cause.
Firmly separating the domains of religion and the state by enforcing law and order and bringing about a sense of common national purpose requires leadership of a calibre that India has not yet produced. Only liberals can provide such leadership, but India’s liberals have deserted the battlefield – or they had until now when FTI has started assembling.
FTI’s position on religious freedom
FTI is a group of leaders unambiguously committed to freedom including religious freedom. Its members firmly believe that religion is a personal matter to be practiced inside our own homes, temples or churches, not something on which governments should create policy and enact laws. Governments should never get involved in any religious activity (such as through subsidies) unless it trespasses others’ liberties. FTI therefore does not inquire into or ask its members to alter their personal religious beliefs. Simply speaking, their religious beliefs are not the business of FTI.
FTI believes that once the rule of law is enforced, religions will thrive on their own merit. FTI policy asks everyone, including religions, to be given complete freedom of speech – subject to accountability. This includes the right to preach one’s religion and convert others to one’s faith. (I have reservations against the use of foreign funds for such advocacy, but this concern is not FTI policy at the moment.) FTI requires such freedom to be exercised with care since freedom is never license to cheat. To the extent that religious activity leads to conversion, the state has an interest in ensuring that no coercion, bribes, or misleading conduct is involved.
Freedom Team of India

It is abundantly clear that no major political party in India cares about our liberties. The only way, therefore, to foster religious freedom and tolerance is for liberals to assemble and seek a mandate from the people through the hustings. Please therefore join or otherwise support FTI. Become a Freedom Partner!

[This article was published in the September 2010 issue of Freedom First]

[1] Robert A. Sirico, Must Religion Be a Threat to Liberty? Sydney: Centre for Independent Studies, 2008, p.12.

[2] Available for comment at

[3] Locke, John, A Letter Concerning Toleration,  1689, []

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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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An invitation to become a Freedom Partner

On 1 July 2010, the Freedom Team of India (FTI) completes [completed] one year of its existence. Despite a political and media culture in India that is hostile to liberalism, and despite a severe shortage of leaders, FTI has successfully managed to build a platform where good leaders can work together towards a free India. FTI’s tricolour torch is now well recognised by thousands of people across India, and everyone has been invited to become a Freedom Partner (

A liberal national political group

What is FTI trying to do? Essentially, it aims to fill the void in India’s political spectrum, of a missing liberal party. Ever since Swatantra party wound up in 1974 things have gone downhill for India. FTI is trying to reverse this trend and take India towards freedom.

What is the obstacle to this goal? Is it that we don’t have the policy solutions? No! The solutions to India’s governance problems are quite clear, being broadly on the lines suggested in my 2008 book, Breaking Free of Nehru (BFN). (You can download it from

So if the policy solutions aren’t an obstacle then what’s holding us back? Leadership vacuum. There is no one to fight the corrupt leaders who rule India. After Rajaji died, India’s liberals washed their hands off politics and, ever since then, have watched from the sidelines and made idle, useless comments about India’s ruin. They are bhadralok and will not step into the ‘dirt’ of politics. They are the problem!

Our education system has added to this by creating millions of clerks. Our clerical classes would much rather serve corrupt politicians as bureaucrats and industrialists, than join politics and change things themselves. No one in India seems to be aware of what Pericles said about ancient Athens, that ‘this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all[1] We must therefore tell those liberals who refuse to actively engage in India’s politics that they have no business in India. Please get involved! That is FTI’s main message.

One generation of liberals has bitterly failed India. I am now already fifty years old (what a shock!) and if I can’t deliver a free India to my people, then one more generation would have bitterly failed. With repeated failures of this sort, we don’t know whether there will even remain an India to talk about in the future.

Make no mistake. The ball is firmly in our court. Your court, my court. Our children will blame us just as we don’t hesitate to blame those who have failed us so bitterly.

For the past 12 years I have been working towards bringing together outstanding liberals into India’s public life. After promoting Swatantra Bharat Party between 2004-05, it became clear to me that piecemeal efforts simply can’t work. We have to do this properly, or not at all. Changing India is no piffling matter and we should give this task due respect and prepare for it properly.

The path of the Freedom Team

At least 1500 outstanding leaders therefore need to come together to agree on the policies they will offer India. They then need to campaign for three years and acquire considerable funding support. Only then should they consider joining or forming a political party with the clear aim of winning a majority of seats in the Parliament.

I proposed the idea of FTI in mid-2007 and later that year created a Yahoo group, inviting a few people to join. Shantanu Bhagwat, a former foreign service officer, was among the first to join, and published my guest post on his blog, Saytameva Jayate[2]. That post received many comments and many bright young people then joined FTI. That was a lucky break.

These founders of FTI then initiated a range of activities. A magazine called Towards a Great India was issued, and an excellent brochure released. Thereafter, led by L.K. Kandpal and Ajay Anand in Indore, FTI became a Trust on 1 July 2009. FTI’s rules, and particularly its Code of Conduct establish high standards for FTI members  to follow. FTI later released its Basic Principles and Strategy documents and launched a website. Members actively conducted outreach events in UP and MP and received good press coverage.

FTI is based on the citizen-leader model, a citizen who is also a leader. It doesn’t require full-time commitment. Members are asked to give the highest possible priority to their livelihood and family, after which they can work collaboratively on a few activities with the team in their spare time. A lot of excellent work has been achieved this way, at very low cost. To further keep costs down, member expertise in finance, accounts and IT is extensively used on the team.

FTI’s teamwork is exemplified by a letter that was drafted, designed, and sent out across India to 4000 independents candidates of the 2009 parliamentary elections. Members fielded tens of telephone calls that were received from all over India in response. FTI currently has 94 members and is in touch with 119 independent candidates.

FTI’s first conference

Seventeen members attended FTI’s first three-day conference in February 2010 held in Mumbai. At the end of that conference I was able to announce “to the nation that we have a Team. It is now up to the remaining bright and determined young leaders of India to join the Team, and for the good people of the nation to support this effort to transform India’s governance.”

The conference endorsed FTI’s strategy with minor amendments. In brief, FTI members will not launch direct political action until all the necessary homework is done and the people of India clamour for change. Further, as part of FTI’s annual action plan, a range of programs will be organised this year, including public seminars and Freedom Rallies.

Challenges to be overcome

The environment for liberal politics in India remains extremely hostile. The shortage of leaders is beyond acute: virtually impossible. No reader of Freedom First has joined FTI yet. About two thirds of those who have joined FTI are dormant. IT millionaires (and billionaires!) in India who pontificate about values and write books advocating liberal policies have no hesitation in consorting with corrupt socialists!

Funding remains the second major challenge.  Members have funded almost all FTI efforts so far. If funds could be raised, then a few FTI members will be able to devote their full time to this task, giving this effort a much needed boost.

Despite these difficulties, FTI is determined to rouse the country from its slumber. It is clear to me that FTI is India’s only hope now; indeed, India’s greatest hope for the past many decades. If anyone has a better alternative to offer, please tell us urgently about it! But if you have nothing better to offer, then make haste to get on board this movement. I look forward to your active participation.

By Sanjeev Sabhlok

This article was  published in  Freedom First, July 2010

[1]Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, c.410BC, trans. Rex Warner.

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