June 8, 2007Public Policy

Niccolo explained the difficulty

But India needs to renew its love for rights and freedoms

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Jerry Rao’s op-ed in today’s Mint is a must read.

That is why we are forced to ask ourselves: should we not have a political party that is a khullam-khulla defender of markets and an opponent of an intrusive state?

S.V. Raju of the Indian Liberal Group has been trying to register a political party that is expressly opposed to socialism. He is making very little headway. The broader question is whether, even if he did, would such a party have electoral success? The general view is that without the benefits of caste permutations, religious zeal, regional passions or dynastic PR, no political party can succeed in contemporary India. Does this mean that we concede the intellectual forum to leftists and obscurantists? Once we do this, as citizens of the republic we lose the right to complain as they perpetuate our poverty and ensure that we will never catch up with the Koreas and the Chinas. Whatever our decision, in the practical realm we must take heart from the Swatantra experience. The Party members did not become ministers—but by their very existence and by their bold articulation, they did influence the polity for the better. Herein lies an opportunity.

Even if it is not a formal party, only a society, it is important that the argument for economic and political freedoms (which are intertwined) must be made loudly, clearly and cogently. In this area, we can learn from the Fabian Society, not their ill-conceived ideas but their organizational methods. They kept talking, writing, communicating—and over time, their ideas became fashionable among politicians who may have never heard of the Fabians. The revived Swatantra should, at a minimum, aim to fulfil this role. [Mint]While we await the free market Mahatma, defenders of rights and freedoms must organise themselves and add their voices, and their votes, to the national discourse.

It’s not hard to find people who have benefited from the whiff of economic freedom unleashed by P V Narasimha Rao’s government fifteen years ago. But, as Niccolo Machiavelli explained five centuries ago, they remain diffident.

And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, then to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

Because the (reformer) has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly… [Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter VI]The need for a new voice, however, has never been more urgent. What Jerry Rao proposes merits greater attention, and yes, greater support.

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