When does libertarianism strike Indians?

The following was written by Indian Charter Teams member Deeksha Gehlot

Libertarianism is hard to fight for in India. People from a country that has never seen anything apart from socialism find it quite difficult to imagine what a libertarian world would be like; they are rather skeptical of it. With ‘socialism’ inscribed in the preamble of the country’s Constitution, libertarianism seems to be a far-fetched concept.

In India, people are more likely to stand against each other and support the government than stand with each other against the government. Say one line against the government and you will have to face people defending it no matter how little or much they know about it. Bastiat’s description of a government in his essay ‘Government’ aptly suits here:

“…..All we know is, that it is a mysterious personage; and assuredly, it is the most solicited the most tormented, the most overwhelmed, the most admired, the most accused, the most invoked, and the most provoked, of any personage in the world.”

So, how does one even approach people in India with libertarian ideas? If you tell them free markets and capitalism is the only way to raise the standard of living of all, they are more likely see this statement as factually incorrect and discard the ideas there and then. If you tell them you love capitalism and all the progress we’ve made is due to it, they’re likely to imagine you cutting trees, killing animals and enslaving the poor for life. So what is there to do?

One good change India is seeing is an increasing want for personal liberty. However, most people ‘feel’ it is okay to do away with their own economic liberty in order to serve the society. In this scenario, any libertarian advocate needs to do just two things:

  1. Connect personal liberty to economic liberty

  2. Make people ‘think’ rather than ‘feel’

Most youth in India are highly motivated and in favor of personal liberty. At a personal level many individuals want the freedom to make choices: how to dress, whom to marry, which job to do. When these people are made aware that their personal choices are influenced by the economic freedom they have, they will hopefully become curious.

While the sole concept underlying libertarianism remains ‘individuality’, most libertarians assume that people are individuals while addressing Indians. However, we must not forget that not all people in India consider themselves to be individuals. Many identify themselves with the family, caste or gender they belong to. They see themselves as part of a community which they are meant to serve. This is why people seldom ‘think’ about economic freedom and only act on what they ‘feel’ about it. Thus, it is much needed that Indians ‘think’ and see beyond the here and now.

While some are fascinated by politicians giving away blankets and alcohol before elections others are fascinated by the subsidies and reservations. The more aware ones are lured by land acquisitions and public private partnerships. Benefits of these things are ‘seen’ in Bastiat’s words.

What is ‘not seen’ is the mushrooming of ministries and government departments to offer political portfolios in exchange for support, the increasing taxes and inefficiency of the government departments and the fact that the Indian government is so big that almost every family has someone working for it.

Lately, discontent against the government has risen in India. People have realized something is wrong but they still stick to the notion that one day with ‘right’ people we’ll have a ‘good’ government. This is because there is no other alternative they can see. Just questioning people on why they trust the government institution debunks most of their beliefs. Then, with no other solution in mind, they seek an answer to the problems they face today. It is only then that you can talk to them about libertarianism. It is only then that they feel stuck and want to hear you. It is only then that they pay attention to libertarian ideas.

So first listen; then question; then answer; and, always be open to questions.