Paper Abstracts

S V Raju – Liberalism’s Beacon in India

S. V. Raju was not a household name in India but for all classical liberals in the country he was a beacon of hope, someone who would support them in all their efforts to spread liberal ideas across the country. Born and brought up in Mumbai, Raju got drawn to liberalism when he was in college; His active involvement with the liberal movement in India began in 1959 when he joined the just-launched Swatantra Party as executive secretary. He was the back-bone of the party, managing its affairs in such a manner that the leaders did not have to worry about the administration side of things and were free to strategise for the party. Both Rajaji and Minoo Masani had immense faith in him.

When the Swatantra Party was merged with the Bharatiya Kranti Dal in 1974, Raju kept the party alive in the form of the Maharashtra Swatantra Party, refusing to dissolve the state unit of the party. He also retained the office premises of the party in Mumbai.

In the mid-1980s, he took over editorship of Freedom First and slowly started getting more involve in some of the organisations Masani had started – the Indian Council for Cultural Freedom (which publishes Freedom First), the Project for Economic Education and finally the Indian Liberal Group. He was initially reluctant to revive the ILG but later came around to the idea in the mid-nineties when the need for a structured liberal movement was felt. But once convinced he went about single-handedly building up the organisation.

Raju remained unknown outside liberal circles for a long time till the media took note of his writ petition challenging the Representation of People’s Act amendment that required political parties to swear allegiance to the principles in the Preamble to the Constitution, one of which was socialism.

The chapter plots Raju’s work from the early days in the Swatantra Party to his death, and bring out how he kept the flame of liberalism alive.

Towards a Liberal India: Rethinking Reservations

This chapter examines the constitutionality of reservations, and the success (or lack thereof) of affirmative action in the Indian context. What is the best way to help those sections of society that are marginalised? Is it justified to sacrifice the interests of one group in order to further the interests of another? How is individual liberty impacted when reservations are mandated? And what are the politics of reservation policy? What can be a liberal solution to this vexed issue?

Religious and Cultural Freedom in India: Both too little and too much

It is 65 years since Independent India adopted a liberal and "secular" constitution, but it is clear that we are far from achieving those exalted objectives. Recent controversies over religious conversions, bans on books deemed offensive to some groups, illiberal laws that try to determine what people should or should not eat, and the lynching of a man in Dadri (Uttar Pradesh) over suspicions that he may be storing or consuming beef tell us not only that basic individual freedoms are at stake, but that religious freedoms are being interpreted by governments to mean that nothing should ever be done to offend or upset any group or community. This may be politically convenient to some political parties seeking the creation of “specific “vote banks”, but it does nothing to promote genuine liberality or even religious or cultural freedom.

Kowtowing to religious groups has resulted in a severe curtailment of fundamental rights, including the rights to free speech and expression in which the derivative freedom of religion is rooted.

On the other hand, there is simply too much freedom – licence, in fact – given in the name of religious freedom. Loud music and processions that disrupt everyday life during religious festivals and events, azaans delivered on loud-speakers, and religious congregations spilling out into streets and parks ever so frequently are just some of the obvious encroachments on civic and citizen rights. Religious might is taking over religious right. Religious and cultural freedom, which ought to be available to every individual or a group of individuals without impacting or curtailing other people’s religious or civic rights, is spreading itself over spaces that are in the public domain. It is spilling over into public spaces, impacting other people’s rights.

Welfare State versus Welfare Society: Rights, Entitlements & Empathy

The chapter will examine the proper role of the state from a liberal perspective. Given the problems and challenges in India, what should the role of the government be? How would a limited state benefit India? Is a welfare state, or some mechanisms for welfare, compatible with a limited state? The paper can have an appraisal of the welfare state and how welfare can be extended more efficiently. How can we gradually move toward reducing the size and scope of the state?

Liberty and Locus of Power

Limited government and local decision making are among the cardinal principles of a liberal society and state. Whatever be the role assigned to government, if such role and power are dispersed in multiple authorities at different levels, liberty is safe. Horizontal and vertical decentralisation protects liberty, as opposed to a centralised, totalitarian system with a single locus of power. Local decision making gives citizens greater control over their lives and allows effective participation in democracy and governance.

And yet our Constitution and state structure have created a highly centralised, largely ineffective governance process that neither disperses power, nor allows people’s participation. Indian Constitution is a remarkably humane, liberal document. However, there was a clash between Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of limited, decentralised government with people gaining a significant measure of control over their lives, and Dr Ambedkar’s concerns about transferring power to the panchayats which were ‘dens of casteism and corruption’. Both had strength in their arguments. Gandhiji’s fierce opposition to centralisation and state control were at the heart of his opposition to colonial role. Ambedkar’s aversion to the hierarchical, caste-ridden society that institutionalised inequality by birth, and therefore the fear that the local elites would monopolise power and perpetuate caste rigidities at the village level were fully justified.

The failure of our nation-builders to reconcile the diametrically opposing views of Gandhiji and Ambedkar has proved very costly for the evolution of Indian state. The incapacity of the Constituent Assembly to arrive at such a synthesis created a strong union and substantially empowered, but vulnerable, state governments. Local governments were not made a part of the constitutional structure of Indian state, and they were relegated to directive principles along with many other homilies and shibboleths.

Liberalism for Whom?

The liberals across the world are in a quandary. In India, the liberal view of a tolerant, diverse and plural society, characterised by political and economic freedom, seem to be squeezed between the cultural and religious conservatives on the one end of the political spectrum, and various hues of Maoist and Marxist ideologues and extremists, at the other end.

Liberalism has a strong intellectual root, with well thought out perspectives on economic, political and social spheres on the basis of individual rights and liberty. Unfortunately, it has not been easy to translate these principles in to effective political campaigns, in a way which would attract the wider population. The problem has been compounded by a belief among a section of the liberals that the high liberal principles are not really for the masses. Some criticise the populist majoritarian tendencies in a modern democracy, with universal suffrage, as inherently in conflict with liberal values.

However, demand for greater political participation in the decision making processes, through democratic institutions have established itself as the governing principle of our age. Politics plays a critical role in a democracy, and the demos, the wider population have to be won over. The question therefore is, can liberalism discover a new political idiom to effectively communicate its principles to the wider population? Could there be a way to make liberal ideals popular and aspirational, to counter the populism based on political largesse and patronage?

Mohandas K. Gandhi, was a master political strategist, and the greatest mass mobiliser in the 20th century. Can the liberals in the 21st century take political leaf out of Gandhi’s book, to explore new political grounds to reach out to the masses?

Liberty & Security in Radically Networked Societies: A Challenge for Every Generation

The trade-off between individual liberties and national security is at the heart of the political institution called the state. The exact nature of this trade-off varies from state to state. As such, the exact quantum of this trade-off between liberties and security is an unsolved problem for all states in the world. As a democratic republic, the Indian state aspires that the degree of liberty forgone by the individual, in exchange of the protection provided by the state, be kept at the minimum.

This debate gains special significance in India with the emergence of what we call Radically Networked Societies (RNS). RNS is defined as a web of connected individuals, possessing an identity (imagined or real) and motivated by a common immediate cause. The defining feature of a RNS is its scale of operation, its wide reach and its ability to evade conventional national security measures.

In the past few years, it is these radically networked societies that have mobilised groups using the internet. Some examples include: the flight of North-East Indian peoples from Bangalore following circulation of videos over phones allegedly showing Muslim people being killed in North-East India, and the lynching of a Muslim man following circulation of WhatsApp videos projecting the man as a cow slaughterer.

With RNS as an emerging security threat, how can the governments uphold national security while minimising upholding individual freedoms? This paper will investigate the various measures that India can pursue in order to face the challenge posed by RNS, while ensuring that the encroachment over individual liberty is minimised.

Why Liberal Parties Fail?

The early and much-mourned demise of the Swatantra Party in India has always been a matter not just of anxious concern on the part of classical liberals. It has also remained a puzzle. What went wrong? Was it inevitable? Or was it something that could have been avoided by decisive actions? Why has it been so difficult for another version of this party to reappear on the Indian electoral scene?

The traditional explanation has been that a genuinely liberal position that supports a minimalist non-interventionist state and agency for individuals to enter into free unfettered contracts and leverage a free market to optimise their individual objective functions is at best a theoretical construct. People may buy into this position in moments of lucidity. But the seductive embrace of parties who promise to use the state to selectively dole out goodies and patronage will always end up being more popular because in fact it is more populist. This is aggravated in countries like India where poverty and deprivation exist on a large scale. Hence the need for every party to swear by redistributive “socialism” rather than individual initiative. While this may be true, its assertion is based more on a theoretical understanding of what the so-called “populace” wants and has wanted from ancient Athens down to today. To promise to “take from Peter and give to Paul” must always be popular with the Pauls of the world. And as long as the Pauls are in a majority, even if only a temporary one, this political strategy must prevail in electoral democracies.