Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: FTI – leadership, team building

The Freedom Team of India is not for everyone

Each month the Freedom Team of India receives a handful of applications for membership. Despite that FTI only has a little over 100 members so far, out of which not everyone is active. This is far less than what is needed to offer India a viable political alternative in 2014.

In addition, there is some turnover. Around two members formally resign their FTI membership each year. This loss, howsoever small, should give pause to FTI to ask: Why do people leave FTI, – particularly those who have participated in the discussions and debates, and contributed to a range of FTI efforts?

In my view there have been essentially three reasons why people have left FTI so far. Without naming anyone, let me summarise the reasons below. This will show that FTI is not for everyone. The standards of citizenship, openness, and collaboration required to be an FTI member are extremely high.

(Disclaimer: Before going further let me make clear that the following cases are generalisations and extrapolations, hence do not aim to precisely represent any real individual. While not entirely fictitious, these three cases should be considered as 'markers' for three potential categories: not a precise summarisation of any particular individual's opinions. )

1) Some are aggressive and impatient, and cannot debate issues

There are a few who want things done their way (for instance on some technical matter) and are shocked by dissenting voices or questions being asked of them. They leave FTI in a huff. Indeed, one of India’s well known IT “activist” (if one can use this word) found the idea of discussion quite difficult to stomach, and left FTI promptly after joining. Such people with potentially good ideas but who don’t have the patience to persuade others on the team, are not suited for FTI. 

2) Some want to impose their religious views on society

There have been a couple of instances where FTI members with extremely strong views on religious matters have wanted to impose their views on society, and when FTI members were not supportive of that, left FTI. 

Consider the matter of Hindutva. I personally hold a dim view about this concept (as often practised) which I blame (equally with fanatic Islam and geopolitical gaming by the British) for precipitating India's partition. I have explained the detailed reasons in my draft manuscript DOF. I've also collected extensive material re: RSS through a quick scan of the academic literature, and published on my blog

In my (personal) view, the Hindutva concept mixes the state with religion. BJP is therefore unsuitable to govern India because (among other things) it takes recourse to this ideology which is incompatible with freedom. Of course, BJP is not the only political party in India that mixes religion with the state.

But both Hindutva and RSS mean different things to different people. Some FTI members believe that RSS is a social service organisation. However, such members continue on FTI because they are not fanatic about their ideas and are open to a discussion that leads to the truth. Indeed, my views overlap with a moderate approach to the underlying idea of Hindutva, for India does have a fundamental character that is unique amongst all world civilisations. This fundamental character is based on the concept of tolerance and open-mindedness. The idea of Hindutva, however, as commonly used in political discourse, demeans this beautiful civilising idea that first arose in India, and narrows Indian civilisation to a particular view about a particular religion. India's is a vision of the globally peaceful state, a vision of our shared humanity, a vision for liberty, a vision for the truth. Let's not diminish this vision through narrow ideas that impose particular religious views on others. 

We have resolved this matter by agreeing that no FTI member will be affiliated with any organisation that partakes of violent activities. This is the only open-minded approach to take. Let the truth prevail. So long as RSS remains non-violent, its members can join FTI. The moment it reverts to its reputation for violence, such FTI members – who are members of RSS (there are none at the moment) – would have broken their commitment and will need to leave.

I continue to hold the right to publicly oppose the Hindutva concept equally as others on FTI continue to hold the right to support it – so long as they don't start imposing religious views (e.g. bans on cow slaughter or bans on proselytisation) on the rest of society (noting that there are differing views on these matters among the great proponents of Hinduism itself) . If that happens, India will get further divided and become further illiberal. India can then never claim to be a place that discovered tolerance. Thus, FTI members can talk against cow slaughter (and should, if they believe it is something to be avoided) and persuade others against it, but they can’t support government policy or legislation on this matter.

If religion is allowed by FTI to intervene in matters of governance or social policy, there will remain little to distinguish a Taliban or Iran dictator from an FTI member. It is fortunate that those FTI members who are religious fanatics and have little understanding of the concept of freedom tend to leave FTI. And indeed they must. Classical liberalism is based entirely on the concept of LIBERTY, of freedom of thought and belief – and liberty cannot be ensured if the state imposes the will of a few (or even of the majority) on the others. Indeed, Vivekanda himself reminded us clearly: "Liberty in thought and action is the only condition of life, growth and well-being: Where it does not exist, the man, the race, and the nation must go down".

3) Some want to impose non-religious views on society

Just as it is inappropriate to impose one’s religious views on the society, it is inappropriate to impose one’s non-religious views. One of FTI's members found it difficult to co-exist with those who hold strong religious beliefs (but are willing to not impose them on society). He effectively wanted everyone to forego their religious beliefs. Classical liberalism does not dispute religious belief. It only disputes the imposition of belief (or non-belief) on others using the instruments of the state. Hence that member left, and so he should have.

FTI members who are inactive

In addition to those who have left FTI there are those who have faded away. Such members receive all FTI communication but rarely participate in any discussion or activity. I have a feeling that some of these members have found themselves to be in one or more of the three categories outlined above, and are unwilling or incapable of debating the issues and resolving the matter collaboratively. Such members need to put more focus on working in teams, and persuading others about their views. That is never easy, but that is precisely why India has suffered so far – because of the inability of its educated people to work together. 

It is not just good people that India needs, but those who understand the concept of liberty (with accountability) and are willing to work as members of a team to resolve their differences.

If you can rise to the challenge of being a citizen-leader then please step forward to join FTI.

I also invite those who have left FTI to reflect on why they did so, to then consider the needs of India and the demands of freedom, and to then re-apply to join. I'm sure they will gladly be welcomed back with open arms. 

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The Swatantra Party – Victory in Defeat

Many years ago I had made some notes about why Swatantra Party failed (it only got 44 seats in the Parliament), based primarily on Col. H.R.Pasricha’s book, The Swatantra Party – Victory in Defeat. These notes were first published in 2003 by the India Policy Institute as part of a strategy pack for a 2004 workshop, and later in Towards a Great India 15 September 2009.  (To understand these notes better, please read the book.)

Lesson No.1 : Liberals are no different to other human beings, and we should be humble and accept our individual limitations

Gandhi too had many preconceived notions; the one difference was that he had less of them than others and was willing to continuously learn. He wrote in Community Service News, September — October, 1946, "I have great concern about introducing machine industry. The machine produces too much too fast, and brings with it a sort of economic system which I cannot grasp. … as we grow in understanding, if we feel the need of machines, will certainly have them. … we shall introduce machines if and when we need them." He kept saying that he was a seeker for the Truth and was happy to be corrected. Obviously one man can only learn so much in one lifetime so we can understand why he could not understand the capitalist system of Adam Smith. If he could find the time to understand it, he would have surely changed his views.  
Liberals will need to build a political organisation that is based entirely on rigorous thinking, and complete equality.  
Lesson No. 2: Never tolerate a person on the Executive Council who does not challenge any view that the person does not agree with. Just because someone says so, does not make a thing true. Even Masani made such an appeal, that eventually destroyed the party. At page 79 Pasricha says, "Mariswamy, the general secretary of the Madras party, was arguing against the alliance [Grand Alliance of 1971] fairly cogently, when Masani interrupted with the remark that Rajaji was in favour of the alliance. A sudden, dramatic change came over Mariswamy. He stopped in midstream and abjectly announced that he withdrew his remarks unreservedly and totally. It struck me as extremely peculiar that the leader of the National Executive level should so abjectly withdraw his considered opinion merely at the mention of Rajaji's opinion. This is a small illustration of the type of leadership the Swatantra party was able to scrounge. Subservience to autocratic "rule", real or perceived, is a more natural state of man than democracy, particularly in India.  Never accept a sheep or 'yes men'.
Lesson 3: Nip the evil in the bud
At page 130, Pasricha talks of Masani being "fed up with the state of indiscipline in the party." At page 36, Pasricha points out how the Jan Sangh nipped in the bud any deviationist by expelling him from the party. People who discriminate against women, Harijans, Muslims, etc., etc., need to be blocked at the doorstep, but if they manage to infiltrate, they need to be expelled at the first opportunity. 
Lesson 4: Build party workers
Nobody in the party seemed to be bothered about building a set of workers who would proselytise. Apostles were in very short supply. A corps of trained, devoted workers, functioning under the direct control of a centre, could have sown the gospel far and wide and counteracted the prevailing socialistic rhetoric." "No attempt was made to formulate a detailed scheme for the training of cadres." (p.115) The party clearly did not have a strategy for the long-term. It was dependent on Rajaji in more ways than one.
Lesson 5: Do not contest elections until fully ready
Repeatedly, Pasricha shows the ill-judged keenness of state leaders as well as National leaders to contest elections well beyond the capacity of the party to organise. Resources need to be spent strategically and very prudently. Recklessness and haste can only destroy. That is one more reason to have ‘big picture’ strategy to be continuously reviewed.
Lesson 6: Never consort with parties the do not have the same principles
The moment the party compromises its fundamental principles, it is as good as dead. We are liberals. We do not provide Indian citizens with a hodge podge of policies – strictly liberal only.
Lesson 7: Ensure rigorous audit of the party
Tendency of state units to be highly factionalised, based on feudal or caste principles. All the demerits of existing political parties began to rapidly emerge in the State units of the Swatantra party including financial irregularities. A rigorous audit of party membership, funds, processes, etc., is essential for the party to not deteriorate "around the fringes".
Lesson 8 : Place a significant membership fee
By putting a low membership fee, wealthier individuals with political ambitions are able to enroll a significant number of dumb followers by paying for their fees.  
Lesson 9: The importance of allowing joint stock companies to fund political parties.
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Achieving big things in small steps

Here is a lightly edited version of one of my emails. It talks about how leadership is made up of small steps towards the big goal. 


I admire most those who lead. Just go and do whatever is needed. That is why I admire N.Krishna (here) – not necessarily for the kind of work he is doing (he would have been more effective through FTI – but maybe he can be persuaded to join FTI even as he continues his current work), but for his initiative.

When Gandhi started many of his movements, he didn't seek permission, nor support. Perhaps moral support, but that's it. He just went ahead and did whatever needed to be done. People followed. In the millions. He built credibility through a series of very small actions – not more than 20 small actions in his entire life. That's all it took to throw out the British (of course I'm simplifying things, but that was the core).

Leadership is demonstrated through SMALL actions, not big ones. You wrest the leadership, you take over. That's all it takes. Others follow – if you ideas makes sense. They would have thought of it themselves if they could, but now that they see it, they think it will work. So they follow. But it is crucial that ideas have to be led by someone who believes in them, and will persist.

So the main thing is that the leader doesn't lecture others (that too, may be needed – but very subtly!). He simply does what has to be done. 

And through a successive series of small steps focused on the bigger goal, the big picture then starts falling in place.

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Teaching vs. doing: the challenge of strategic leadership

What is more important: setting up institutes like the India Policy Institute, or leading a political movement? This is a fundamental strategic question. In my mind it represents the difference between a F.A. Hayek (who established the Mont Pelerin Society) and a Thomas Jefferson or a Margaret Thatcher who revolutionised their nations. Who impacts the world more?

I discussed this issue in one my earlier blog posts (Preachers, Teachers, Doers), and have since thought some more about this.

It is clear from even a casual glance at history that while teachers might have started off (or in most cases, consolidated) some interesting (even potentially useful) ideas, it has taken doers to move the world.

It is easy to say that a society must go from Point A to Point B, but it takes a doer to get this job done. Far more difficult!

The doer has a truly challenging task to perform, involving not only knowledge (which is easy to acquire) but communication (which is hard), and strategy (which is much harder). The net result of all this is leadership capability – the ability to influence people and, ultimately, to change society. 

These key concepts can now be presented in a simple table:



Communication skills

Organisational skills and strategy

Leadership capability

Preachers (e.g. writers)





Teachers (e.g. Hayek, Buddha)





Doers (e.g. Mayavati, Rajaji, Gandhi, Lincoln)




1 to 5

What this table shows is that the doer brings to the table a far higher set of skills and thinking. He is more engaged with his times, and more effective.

The Freedom Team of India is a platform for such leaders (doers) in India. I invite you to join or support FTI. Stop merely complaining about Indian politicians. REPLACE THEM!

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