Elections and professionals

I wrote most of what I had in mind in yesterday’s post, but then I read this Arun Maira article from ET’s Thursday edition. Most of it is irrelevant (to me), but this part is very interesting-

Ideally, those who wish to influence change must participate transparently within the official system — as the ‘professionals’ standing for election in India are. In the 1960s, Minoo Masani appealed to Indian professionals to come forth and join the Swatantra Party. The party fizzled out by the 1980s. Not only because many professionals did not join it, but because its views about economics and society had limited appeal amongst Indian people.

Two questions about the role of the professionals in politics that were asked to the Swatantra Party’s leaders 50 years ago, remain valid even today. One, are professionals electable? And two, how inclusive is their vision for the country? To get elected, these professionals must convince voters that they understand and represent what the voters want. Very recently Chandrababu Naidu told an industry association that he lost the election in 2004 because he was seen to be too much influenced by professionals — international consultants and CEOs. And that, to get elected this time, he would keep his distance from them and stay much closer to the people.

That episode is one of the nails in the coffin of a liberal India.

Maira, though, conveniently misses a small but vital fact in his narrative. I will quote what I wrote in a comment on a post on political parties and ideologies last July-

The word socialist is another millstone Indira Gandhi hung around our neck. It was during the emergency that she amended (too soft a word) the constitution and added the words socialist and secular to the preamble. Rajiv Gandhi went beyond that and taking advantage of the unassailable majority granted to him on account of the post IG assassination sympathy wave, he went ahead and decided that “any party not willing to ’submit itself’ to the Constitution of India ‘does not deserve to be recognized as a political party.’” These two amendments together killed any chances of a liberal party even contesting elections. (India’s socialist mandate to be challenged in Supreme Court). On the attempt made to remove the word “socialist” from the preamble, the SC said there are no hard and fast definitions, so the word shall remain.

It really is sad –

In 1994, the Swatantra Party, set up in 1959 to oppose Nehruvian socialism, filed a writ petition before the Bombay high court challenging the amendment to the Act.

On 28 June, Mint profiled the saga noting that the case has been pending since then.

“Socialism is a form of economic engineering. The grievance in our petition was that the country did not allow us to participate in the electoral process without telling a lie and we did not want to lie,” says S.V. Raju, member of the Swatantra Party, who is still awaiting the court’s ruling.

If the court rules in his favour, Raju will be able to register the Swatantra Party and contest elections.

If the court rules in his favour…it did not.

Some existing and defunct Indian liberal parties (I think all of them are dead)-
Swatantra Party (wikipedia) (the first Indian libertarian party)
Swatantra Bharat Paksh (wikipedia) (its successor)
Liberal party of India

This was in response to Abhishek’s lament-

Our constitution declares that India is a socialist country and all political parties are legally obliged to declare under oath their adherence to the constitution before they can be recognized. So every political party today is either socialist or guilty of perjury.

Sad, isn’t it?

So, its not as if an experiment in liberalism wasn’t tried in India. C. Rajagopalachari was the fulcrum, as Rajmohan Gandhi notes in this lengthy extract from his book, and the party disintegrated after his death-

In 1959, the elderly watchdog became a greyhound! Ignoring ailments and shaking off inhibitions, Rajaji, 80, decided to challenge Jawaharlal, who seemed to embody power, fame and vitality, with a new political party.

Events and his own analysis propelled CR. The Congress, he felt, was steadily corrupting. Though committing themselves, in 1955, to ‘a socialistic pattern’ and, later, to plain ‘socialism,’ its members seemed to be getting richer rather than more caring. In 1956 CR had publicly asked: ‘Congressmen look so well off. Have they taken up new avocations and earned money? Then how have they made money?’

‘Anyhow, somehow,’ was his answer at the time. Now, three years later, he replaced it with a phrase that would become central to Indian political debate for the rest of the century. It was the ‘permit-licence-quota’ raj, he said, that was fattening Congressmen. The socialistic pattern, where the State controlled, ‘permitted’ and farmed out business, was enriching Congressmen, officials and favoured businessmen and harassing the rest.

A realisation began to stir in him that if he wished to oppose State control of business he would have to oppose Congress itself. While he was thus cogitating, the Congress came out with a new agricultural policy. It had three prongs: government takeover of the grain trade; ceilings on land holdings; and co-operative cultivation of land.

To CR this policy represented a wolf that needed immediate chaining, and he barked at once and loudly. ‘Bureaucrats, he argued, would make incompetent traders. Land ceilings would be unconstitutional and would dry up the flow of grain into towns. And rural industrialisation, the soundest route to more jobs, would suffer if the bigger farmers were squeezed out.

Calling Nehru, for the first time, ‘the Congress dictator,’ CR also said: ‘The single brain-activity of the people who meet in Congress is to find out what is in Jawaharlal’s mind and to anticipate it. The slightest attempt at dissent meets with stern disapproval and is nipped in the bud.’

Two years earlier, he had spoken somewhat academically of the role a Right party could perform. Now, perceiving a threat of joint farming and the collapse of independence in Congress, he called for a Conservative Party of India:

Men do not feel any inclination to become wage-slaves, and peasants are least inclined…. A wide public is waiting to give support to an opposition formed on a sound basis, because the people have realised that one-footed democracy is no good and is not distinguishable from coercion and totalitarianism.

Read it and a vital chapter in India’s history is revealed. What is also revealed is that what plagued the “liberal party” was the same thing that has plagued every conservative movement in history – inconsistency. Another important factor is this – Indian leaders never understood the meaning of republic, or the functions of voting. Rand makes a very important point

A majority vote is not an epistemological validation of an idea. Voting is merely a proper political device—within a strictly, constitutionally delimited sphere of action—for choosing the practical means of implementing a society’s basic principles. But those principles are not determined by vote.

More importantly-

Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority.

Just like you don’t vote on whether murder is legal or not, you don’t vote on whether stealing X’s property is legal or not. That, our leaders forgot – on purpose.

So far as the Indian electorate is concerned, it has already rejected a liberal alternative once. The question is, what makes you think that they won’t do it again? An even more important question. If, as Maira says (and he is right), “[the Swatantra Party]’s views about economics and society had limited appeal amongst Indian people, ” and such Indian people have been imposing their views on a minority, what does pandering to – genuflecting before – the majority really represent?

A republic can either be based on the principle of individual rights, or on the principle of not respecting such rights. India preferred the second alternative a long time back.

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