Swarajya’s Second Anniversary: Rediscovering The Golden Mean
. . .because before anywhere else, bad ideas need to be challenged in the realm of ideas itself
Two years ago, when we revived Swarajya, a periodical launched by Khasa Subba Rau with Rajaji’s blessings in 1956, it was with a deep sense of history and humility. The original purpose of Swarajya was to expose the Nehruvian brand of socialism that was dragging the country to ruin. When we revived the magazine (and started its web portal) in 2015, socialism and statism were in retreat everywhere, with even India experiencing liberalisation and market reforms in fits and starts from 1991. But, perniciously, we also found that the same foolishness of the Nehru-Indira Gandhi regimes had begun resurfacing as a form of mindless populism after 2004. We saw the worst aspects of this populism and dole culture in some of the initiatives of the UPA under Sonia Gandhi’s tutelage: boondoggles instead of real job creation (MGNREGA); a communal and narrow approach to universalising education (RTE), which achieved quite the opposite (closures of thousands of schools and a reduction in learning outcomes); and a one-size-fits-all Food Security Bill completely divorced from ground reality. When the food requirements of both the poor and the rising non-poor (choice, better quality) were changing, the UPA reduced food security to offering cereals at Re 1, Rs 2, and Rs 3 a kg to two-thirds of the population. The UPA’s populism destroyed market after market, reducing choices for all citizens.
That some of these ideas continue to be entertained under the Modi government shows the pernicious after-effects of long-term dole mania, where even sensible politicians are afraid to make the right choices. The market for bad ideas has expanded exponentially under all regimes, both at centre and states, primarily because it has not been challenged vigorously in the world of ideas and through the offer of alternative paths to more rational public policies.
In our second coming, we at Swarajya have promised to “Read India Right”, both to stress our pro-market orientation and to emphasise an evidence- and fact-based approach to public policy that is not constrained purely by ideology. When we say “Read India Right”, we are humble enough to realise that the word “Right” means not doing the wrong things. It is not a mindless belief in laissez faire, for we know that there are situations in which markets freeze, and fail to deliver the required results. The 2008 economic crisis was one such demonstration, where even the US effectively nationalised some banks and companies temporarily to ensure financial stability before letting them revert to private ownership. Between the ideological extremes of Adam Smith, Milton Friedman and Karl Marx, there can be better options in-between. For this you have to read both India right, and the specific situation right. What works in America may not work here.
The other thing we have in mind while reading India right is this simple truth: India will be most comfortable when it is in tune with its own inner sense of itself. Nehru, despite his attempt to “Discover India” actually ended up shoving a Soviet style of socialism which did not work for us. Whatever our criticisms of authoritarian Stalinism and Maoism, they can at least claim they eradicated extreme poverty, and ensured universal education and health care. This has helped them rise again after the abandonment of Marxism. In India, we got neither the benefits of bottom-up market economics nor top-down Socialist upliftment of the masses. This is the real havoc Nehruvian Socialism has wrought – giving us the worst of both worlds. We got crony capitalism, and corrupt socialism, as was evident during the UPA decade, where scam after scam sent India hurtling towards ruin.
To move forward, India has to rediscover its own cultural genius, where we opt for a strong but limited state, but backed by a vibrant private and personal sector, where each individual takes responsibility for his own progress and well-being. The state can be an enabler in the process of human development, but not the ultimate provider of all things material and spiritual. The last is a fight we have still to wage, for many state governments – in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, not to speak of some in other states – have gotten down to running temples in a supposedly secular state. Clearly, they are motivated by the need to control the money, not dispense mass spirituality. Swarajya will thus fight for freedom and choice for the citizen in both the material and spiritual spheres. Ideologically, we will follow Gandhi’s dictum, of keeping our windows open to all global ideas, but refuse to be blown off our feet by any of then – which was what the Congress did under Nehru. It got carried away by the Socialist rhetoric of the day, and rejected the innate wealth-creating potential of Indic thoughts and culture.
As we enter our third year of our second life, we commit ourselves again to the original ideals of Swarajya under Khasa Subba Rau and Rajaji: to be truly modern without losing touch with the genius that is uniquely Indian.
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