One Year Of Swarajya
What Swarajya 2.0 set out to do, and what we have learnt.
The Swarajya web portal completes one year of existence today. Anniversaries are usually a good time to reminiscence about why a thing was set into motion and reaffirm our commitment to the project. Such an exercise would produce much-repeated generalities, cliched phrases and universal truths about why India is what it is today. The next step would be to restate our ideological position. And in the remaining 600 words explain why what we have to say will save the country and its civilization. You’d be bored by the time you finish reading it and we’ll not have told you anything you did not already know.
But, honestly, the generalities, cliched phrases and universal truths do deserve to be repeated. Everything they would convey remains relevant. India would be much better off with less government control of our lives. Every one of us has witnessed in our own lives as to how government and bureaucracy have stifled enterprise. We have all seen how government bureaucrats can get away with harassing industries, farmers, employers, employees, common citizens like you and me.
In 1956, all this was even more true. That year, journalist Khasa Subba Rau with the patronage of C. Rajagoplachari “Rajaji”, India’s last Governor-General, freedom fighter and statesman hailed by Mahatma Gandhi as his “conscience keeper”, launched Swarajya as a weekly magazine. Swarajya was intended to convey the founders’ quest to translate the joy of freedom not only from foreign rule, but full freedom as defined and promised by the preamble of our constitution. The magazine represented the first coherent intellectual response to Nehruvian socialism and the ever-expanding Big State in newly independent India.
For those running Swarajya back then, it must have been a lonely battle through all those decades of socialist despair. It is daunting to even imagine. They championed the cause of freedom for more than three decades in a country that celebrated poverty, voted back Statists to power repeatedly and derided the wise few who could see through the doctrines of socialism.
In 2015, things appear to have improved. It is sufficiently fashionable to be championing liberal ideals. Today’s India does not celebrate poverty—indeed it has come to celebrate affluence. There is certainly an all-pervading sense of hope that “development” will eventually reach all corners of India and that poverty would be eradicated soon. To be sure there are still many areas in which the State’s domination and intrusion disrupts a normal economic life. But generally the spirit of enterprise and aspiration has taken over. Wherever there has been space available for manoeuvring, the country has capitalized on it and advanced far ahead.
In today’s political lexicon, “reform” is a virtue, “liberalizing” a sector is to open doors for great advancements and “ease of doing business” is a metric by which we judge governments. There is hope that with sufficient lobbying and pressure, the many areas in which the government makes our life difficult can be “liberated” or “liberalized”.
All of this is a far cry from the mid-20th century License Permit Raj. It is often said that Rajaji, the Swatantra Party and others who advocated a liberal economic system were far ahead of their time, and perhaps that is why they failed. If Swarajya 1.0’s ideas were far ahead of its time, wouldn’t Swarajya 2.0 be slightly behind the curve if it were making the same argument 50 years later? To deny that would be to deny all progress that has occurred in the last half a century. You almost get the sense that Swarajya’s stated mission, if not ideals, appear to be on the road to redundancy.
What then is the point of publishing Swarajya in 2015? Throughout the process of launching the publication, raising money and setting up the team, we were always quite sure that there was a need for a publication like ours. About that, there has never been any doubt. In the following 12 months, we’ve begun to understand the finer contours of the problem at hand and what Swarajya must deliver. In other words, we always knew that there was a fairly large animal in the room. Now we know that the animal has four legs, a trunk and a hairy tail. There are broadly three themes that we have, over the last few months, begun to believe in.
First, the broad philosophical outlook and ideological values of the earlier version continue to be relevant. We fight the same adversaries they had fought. But the nature of the battle is different. Rajaji and Khasa Subba Rau had to launch full frontal assaults against the commanding heights and fortresses of a socialist establishment. Whereas today’s Swarajya has to identify, study and strike at visibly friendly but enormously harmful, fashionably sugarcoated forms of socialism.
There is no need for op-ed after op-ed to cry hoarse about the evils of a socialist economic model. Those arguments have been won. What we need are nuanced, well-researched arguments on how, for instance, a bunch of activists have managed to nearly wreck India’s primary and secondary schooling system through ill-conceived legislations. While our ideological roots remain the same, the product and outlook have to be tempered with research and realpolitik. It is when we fail to do this will we risk being anachronistic.
Second, the State and socialism are not the only enemies threatening the welfare and well-being of Indians. We suffer from an ill-informed political establishment. Our governance machinery and industry are under-prepared and ignorant of the vast amounts of scientific and technological progress sweeping the world. These are as sure to cause the destruction of our polity and encumbrance of our liberties as socialism.
Agriculture, commerce, defence, communication and governance are undergoing changes in magnitudes never before seen in human history. At the moment, it is more or less certain that India will lag behind other nations in all these fields. It shouldn’t. We believe there is a need for a publication that is slightly obsessed about all these changes, the future and about the enormous amounts of progress that is possible.
Finally, the third theme that has emerged is that of celebrating our Indic heritage. Primarily, the heritage aspect is a celebration of what we are. No people have lived without narrating the stories of their past and, through that, shaping their self-identity. Secondly, India is urbanising like never before. A majority of young people now seek to settle in cities. They are removed from their villages and small towns where they belonged in more than one sense. Traditions intimately connected to their lands and practised by their forefathers for centuries before them will slowly disappear.
The urban Indian may be left with a nuclear family, a one or a two BHK flat and a certain cultural void. Even for those not spiritually inclined, the need to find and celebrate things that transcend is undeniable. It is not a question of just pride, although a healthy dose is quite all right, but that of engaging this need to belong or to transcend, as the case may be.
These then are what we have learned over the last 12 months.
Alas, this has taken more than 600 words as promised (threatened?) earlier. We did indeed discuss saving the country and civilization after all! But I hope you are not bored by now, and importantly, I hope we told you something you didn’t already know. Anniversary posts rarely do.
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