K.M.Munshi, the founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan was also a founding member of Swatantra Party. He was committed to key classical liberal principles as is evident from his article (below) published in 1960 in "Why Swatantra" (I had scanned it from the hardcopy sent by S.V.Raju to me a few years ago).
However, Munshi's preference for support for Hindu culture by the state and his preference for Hindi's role at the national level saw him ultimately move to Jan Sangh which was not liberal in economic policy but more compatible with his cultural views. Indeed, as this essay shows (particularly its second half), he had not fully understood the ideas of freedom. Despite that, in 1960 this essay was surely path-breaking – at a time when few people in India even remotely understood the idea of freedom.
To Restore Fundamental Rights
From, “Why Swatantra,” 1960, by K.M.Munshi
The Congress leaders loftily ask the Swatantra Party as to what it positively stands for. Like the Pilate, they ask the question and do not wait for the- answer.
The Swatantra Party stands, first and foremost, for the restoration of freedom and democracy in our country which the Congress is doing its best to undermine. We want to breathe freely. We want to possess and enjoy our earnings without government dictation. We want freedom to organise ourselves without bureaucratic direction.
We want, in the words of Gandhiji, to ‘feel that we are the makers of our own destiny’ and not clay to be moulded at the will of the Congress supermen. We want independence which comes, as Gandhiji said, ‘not. by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused.’ Again, in his words, we want to ‘educate the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority.’
The Congress has lost the right to speak as a democratic body. It has reduced all democratic processes to a farce. The Congress is no better than an inverted pyramid. Its annual session is a propaganda stunt like the regimented rallies in totalitarian countries; even the services of cinema stars are being requisitioned to buttress its attraction. The delegates have only one function: to admire the leaders and set the seal of approval on the A.I.C.C. resolutions.
The A.I.C.C., in its turn, dutifully rubber-stamps the resolutions of the Working Committee. The Working Committee is nominated by the president; the president is chosen in accordance with the wishes of the leader. We know the fate of a Congress president who a few years ago dared to think independently.
The Parliament is dominated by the Congress Party, the Party by its leader. The last irresistible and independent voice in the Cabinet was hushed when Maulana Abul Kalam Azad died. And the super-Cabinet of the country — the nominated Planning Commission — is always there to bring errant ministers to heel.
The National Development Council of Ministers-many of them dependent on the Congress bosses for their tenure-has also arrogated to itself equal powers of a super-Cabinet. This was evident when the Council at its recent meeting swore by State trading in foodgrains despite the fact that the outgoing Food Minister had categorically admitted the failure of State trading and the incoming Food Minister had expressed grave doubts about its suitability.
Democracy can only function through the existence of mutually-respected political parties with a national outlook. But that is not the view of the Congress. Anyone who disagrees with the rubber-stamped views of the Congress is dubbed a ‘reactionary’ or an ‘obscurantist’. He is branded ‘out of date’, not modern; ‘static’, not dynamic. Any person even in the Congress or in its Parliamentary wing who dares to differ is openly snubbed. Even an ex-Judge of the Supreme Court enjoys no immunity, though he may enjoy the luxury of a private apology. The P.S.P. is ‘unpractical’; Jan Sangh is ‘communal’; the Swatantra Party is ‘feudal’, and the Press, no sooner it dared to raise its voice against the vicious trends in the Congress, is the ‘voice of vested interests’ or in the retracted version, ‘run for profits’ and, in substance, therefore, venal. Only the Congress, entrenched in enormous power and patronage and with the resources of the State at its disposal, can be right!
When climbing to Heaven in mortal body, Sahadeva, one of the Pandavas, fell on the way,
Dharma Raja said, ‘He fell because he thought he was the wisest of men’.
* * *
The Swatantra Party next wants to restore the fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution, which the Congress has whittled down. The right to property is on its way to become extinct; the fundamental right in this connection has been reduced to a shadow.
Even taxation is expropriatory. During the last seven years, indirect taxation has been so oppressive that the common man is denied even the necessaries of life through soaring prices. At several levels the taxation far exceeds the income. A man with a dividend income of Rs. 1 lakh a year pays income-tax and wealth tax of Rs. 82,471; has to live on his own capital and pay in addition an expenditure tax. The attempt in substance is to kill private industry and private property at the same time.
The fundamental right to carry on business is being extinguished under various pretexts. One has to be a businessman to know how at every step his right to business is circumscribed, crippled or throttled. The big business was the enemy so far; the small trade is now the enemy. State trading is to substitute the bureaucrat for the trader and the latter will swell the ranks of the unemployed, helplessly seeking Government support.
Gandhiji said: ‘Self-government means continuous effort to be independent of Government control, whether it is foreign Government or whether it is national.’
The so-called democracy of the Congress would mean controls on all spheres of life. Every one has to depend upon the State. Every property has to go into the hands of the State. Every man has to be helpless before the mighty State. We are fast approaching the Servile State of Fascism implied in the diktat of Mussolini: “Everything for the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State.” And the State belongs to the political bosses.
Not an Act is passed by the multitude of legislatures in this country but imposes upon the people greater regimentation, operated through an ever-increasing bureaucracy. Even education, culture and religion are threatened in State after State by a mad passion for improving us out of our national traditions, values and ideas. And for that purpose, octopus legislative measures, with well-drilled majority in the legislatures, translate the will of a few into a prison house for all.
Now has begun the invasion of the rural structure, the most powerful bastion of a free people. By one Bill after another, now on the legislative anvil, the agriculturists are being reduced to a new shudra class of submerged people. Their income in most cases, whatever be the effect of inflation and whatever be the cost of prices, will not exceed Rs. 3,600 per year for a family of five working hard throughout the year.
In order to support these measures, even class hatred is openly declared to be inevitable by some Congress leaders. Gandhiji was emphatic: ‘In India, class-war is not only not inevitable but it is avoidable if we have understood the message of non-violence.’ But those who claim to wield power in his name have use only for his name, but no use for his creed!
Punjab was once a highly deficit State. It has now become highly surplus in foodgrains due to the labours of its progressive farmers. They have contributed their initiative, drive and money, mostly raised on the pledge of family ornaments, to reclaiming waste lands, buying tractors, sinking tubewells and levelling lands. But they are now to be expropriated; their crime was that they responded to the call of the nation for producing more food. They will now be forced to give up their lands beyond the miserable minimum at which the ceiling has been fixed and consign their tractors to a junk pile.
Prof. Otto Schiller, a world authority on cooperative farming, in a recent interview in the Statesman, condemned co-operative farming. He is the latest to add his expert voice to Charan Singh’s unanswerable logic. But our power-intoxicated politicians remain unshaken in their resolve to reduce farmers to serfdom.
Though co-operative farming is being soft-pedalled of late, it still remains the sinister end of Congress policy. We are told that no compulsion is going to be used to induce farmers to join farming co-operatives. This is either a cruel joke or a dangerous delusion. If all amenities are preferentially given to service co-operatives and denied to individual family farms, would it not be the most invidious form of compulsion?
Look at the facts. In Bombay, by law, 34% of farmers could be expropriated if 66% decide upon a co-operative society. There is also a Bill before the Bombay Legislative Assembly (Clause 30) providing that if any farmer is unwilling to surrender his land, the Collector, with the previous approval of the Government, will be entitled to acquire it. This is the non-compulsion of the Congress brand!
We are told that the farmer would be free to leave a farming co-operative even after he joins it. This again is a cruel joke. No sooner is a farming co-operative formed, it will borrow large sums of money from the Government and the banks. In fact, the Government will be entitled to recover its dues like land revenue. How can an individual farmer, one out of a hundred, be free to take back his land so heavily burdened? In substance, he will become the serf of the supreme landlord, the State. There will be a new economic feudalism of the worst type, against which there is going to be no relief and no appeal.
But that is not enough. The Conference of State Ministers of Co-operation which met at the end of July 1959, among other things, recommended: ‘Prompt action should be taken to secure deterrent punishment to the delinquents. To ensure this, it is necessary that
(1) a small cell be created in the Registrar’s office to look after this work;
(2) a junior Co-operative Officer be posted in districts to look after this work’.
And the ‘cell’ in this context can only be a cell –watching over the ‘free voluntary’ co-operatives which the Congress Government will bring into existence!
The people are led into complacency by the promise that co-operative farming is not coming for three years. The reason is very clear. The service co-operatives handled by the Congress and lavishly supported by the State are expected to be the instruments for winning the next elections. Then, they believe, it will be easy to get a ‘mandate’ from the electorate to introduce universal co-operative farming.
If anyone is foolish enough to think that the Nagpur resolutions have been given up, that the rural structure is out of danger, that family farming is going to have a chance under Congress rule, he is living in a fool’s paradise.
* * *
What is the Swatantra Party’s economic programme?- they ask. It is laissez faire, says a Congress spokesman. The man who says so has not read our fundamental principles or does not know what laissez faire means.
The Swatantra Party’s policy is based on the Gandhian dictum that ‘all administration should be done by popular will; everything should go from bottom upwards. Democracy will break under the strain of apron strings; it can exist only on trust.’
The cardinal problem of India to which the Swatantra Party has addressed itself is how to meet the basic needs of the people to make their lives worth living.
We stand for an economic programme for the common man to secure him social justice and equality of opportunity; to fulfil the basic needs of the people, viz., food, water, housing and clothing, as the first charge on the State; and to provide adequate safeguards for the protection of labour and against unreasonable profits, prices and dividends.
The Congress claims to have been building up a social welfare state. But the stark fact is, it has hopelessly failed to provide the people with adequate food, water, housing and clothing.
In spite of ten years’ rule, the Congress still asks us to tighten our belt, so that ‘unborn’ generations can enjoy prosperity. Such an attitude is criminally heartless. It cannot help to expand our economy. It has naturally not evoked any enthusiasm among the people.
Let us have a closer look at the achievements of our social welfare experts since they embarked on socialising policies. The per capita income in 1957-58 showed a decline to Rs. 276 from Rs. 284 at 1948-49 price level in the preceding year. It is far behind Ceylon which has a per capita income of Rs. 500.
For a population of 400 million, we should have about 80 million houses, but we have only 15 million pucca houses. In spite of demand for more and more houses, the Congress Government could create conditions for having only 125,000 houses built per year. In U.S.A., with a population of 40% of India’s, a million and a quarter houses are constructed every year. In the last decade, our socialists have seen to it that we built not more than a million and a quarter houses. And ask any man who has built a house under what stifling conditions and regulations he has had to work.
What have these ‘social welfare experts’ done with regard to clothing? We have a textile industry, the second largest in the world and yet our per capita consumption of cotton cloth (including handloom and powerloom production) is only 16.8 yards against 60 yards in U.S.A., 35 yards in Japan and 29 yards in U.S.S.R. In their insatiate greed for taxes, the Government raised the excise levy on cloth from Rs. 45 crores in March 1956 to Rs. 72 crores in September of that year. This led to the closure of mills and consequent large scale unemployment; it made cloth oppressively expensive for the common man.
And what about food? It is the primary requirement of man; it forms 45 to 80% of the budget of a family. Freedom from foreign food, therefore, is the only basis of our economic freedom. Our “social welfare experts’ have, however, completely betrayed that trust.
The recent food situation in Bengal is a grim example of it, if one were needed. The food prices are soaring higher and still higher, thanks to the Nasik Security Press ; the people are cheated in the value of their money to finance prestige projects of the State. But, whatever the oppressive nature of food prices, the Government must take their sales-tax even from the poorest!
Between 1952 and 1959, the food imports have cost the nation as much as Rs. 948 crores, and the quality of food available is far below the minimum standards required for the health of the nation. The only remedy which the Government know is to spend crores and crores of money on spectacular schemes and make us more and more helpless in the matter of food through controls administered by a corrupt bureaucracy. Is this social welfare?
These are the "great" economic achievements of the Congress Government, trumpeted on a hundred platforms. No wonder that the Congress, at the election, got only 32 per cent of the votes of the people. It will not get even that percentage next time.
The aim of the Swatantra Party, therefore, is clear: it wants to restore free democracy and real parliamentary control to the people ; to meet, as the first charge, the elementary needs of the common people, viz. food, water, housing and clothing at easy prices ; to stimulate private initiative to create employment opportunities; to destroy the weedy growth of corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy ; to place the security of India beyond the grasp of ambitious World Powers, so that we can stand fearless before the world.
The Swatantra Party has to be made strong and effective to rescue the common man from being regimented, impoverished and enslaved by the totalitarian devices of the Congress.
To quote the words of our great poet Gurudev Tagore: “A cause as great as India’s should not be “dependent on the will of a single master.”