Politics Vs Economy in India

The following post was contributed by Venkatesh Geriti, Founder of SFLSI

India’s founding fathers opted socialism for India, occasionally adding some liberal principles like freedom of speech or secular equal voting rights. All Indians feel proud to be living in the world’s largest democratic country. Democracy has been India’s biggest achievement in the last 60 years of Indian politics. The politicians are the law-makers of the country both at the national and
provincial level. They need to make good laws to protect people’s rights and ensure them justice. Most Indian political parties are socialistic parties with the agenda of encroaching upon the freedom of people and making dictates to them under the disguise of the state.

In Indian politics, politicians and bureaucrats play key roles in the development of several sectors like manufacturing, infrastructure, service and agriculture. Instead of making economic progress, these sectors are geared toward political and economic crises.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, India had a 25% economic share in the global GDP. However, due to her lack of industrialization, India’s share in the global GDP had become 2% by India’s independence in 1947. India was a popular destination for free trade in the 16th and 17th  centuries, but severed her connection with global markets from the 1940′s to 1990′s. Indian liberalization in 1991 helped form good relations with international markets and made India one of the largest economies in the world.

Indians have come to realize the importance of liberalization and reform for development through the transition from poverty to prosperity. They are seeking quality in education and health, equal opportunities, rule of law and free markets.

Indian politics is quite complex because of the diversity of regions, languages, communities, religions and cultures. During elections, political parties try to entice uneducated voters with socialist freebies and short term benefits. Citizens fall for the trap and opt for short term benefits because of their poverty, illiteracy and lack of knowledge. In an era of competitive populism, parties that focus on developmental issues like infrastructure, economic growth, education and health care who refuse to offer short-term freebies are at a great disadvantage. As all parties soon learned to offer freebies, new forms of vote-gathering became needed to gain support. Politicians are profiting by virtue of being the people’s representative (i.e. from the money allocated for public development activities after winning elections). Unfortunately, bureaucrats also support such politicians out of fear of losing their own benefits.

Last year, the Indian youth came to the streets to advocate for the introduction of a strong anti-corruption institution. This bill was presented nearly 10 times for vote in the Parliament but has not been passed. Many political parties are trying to amend it in order to weaken it. The coalition of governments is posing a major problem in bringing about reform without being unduly amended.

Political parties genuine about long term reform are struggling to get votes. An Indian regional politician was quoted in a news magazine: “I am not giving free power [electricity] to people, and so people are not giving power [political] to me”. A political party announced free televisions for certain households and distributed them after winning the elections in the state of Tamil Nadu. A socialist party distributed laptops to all university students after winning the election in Uttar Pradesh.

Current national ruling parties passed two new laws (Food Security Bill and Land Acquisition Bill) to get rural people’s votes. These two bills would benefit people living in rural areas by providing them with short term benefits, eventually dismissing their attempt to climb out of poverty. Good reforms intended to enhance individual development and dignity lack political will to get passed in parliament.

The state feels that the global economic situation is the reason for the falling value of the rupee and the economic crisis. One cannot disagree that external situations do affect the performance of our economy in an increasingly globalized world. However, domestic problems have an even greater effect. Stuck in a cycle of rent seeking and short term benefits, the state is not making decisions on domestic problems like the unequal distribution of economic freedom, poor manufacturing and infrastructure, or power decentralization.

We as Indians cannot realize our full potential until we give the youth a chance to participate in the economy to create wealth. Our economy will strengthen and compete with other countries only when we begin to produce more than we consume. The government should create a conducive investment climate and support a skillful population rather than turning a blind eye towards corruption and fooling poor people in the name of subsidies. Leveraging the potential of the youth is the only way we can bring our country out of poverty and backwardness. We should elect leaders focused on bringing our economy back on track because failing to do so will result in another generation living in poverty and crisis. Let us not postpone change for the next generation.

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.

Offensive intolerance: Free speech and the right to offend

The following was written by Indian Charter Teams member Deeksha Gehlot.

Free speech and expression  is largely understood to mean arbitrary use of this right for wrongful purposes. With this in mind, law

Free speech is a natural right that every individual should enjoy.

makers decided to put certain legal restrictions upon this natural individual right. ‘Natural’ because man is a social animal which makes social interaction an indispensable aspect of its existence. ‘Individual’ because to express or not to express a word is the final choice of one person.

The Oxford dictionary defines ‘offend’ as ‘cause to feel upset, annoyed or resentful’. With respect to speech or expression, giving no right to offend would mean to give no right to cause the other to ‘feel’ upset, annoyed or resentful. However, different people ‘feel’ different about different situations. If the same expression is made to ten different individuals, there is little or no possibility that any of the two reactions would be exactly the same. While one person might be offended by a simple statement like ‘Don’t act stupid’ but the other one does not.

There is no denial of the fact that every individual is different and unique. Everyone has had different sets of social interactions throughout their lives. Even twins are not bound to react in the same way to the same situation. Life experiences and social interactions are one of the major reasons for one particular kind of human behavior over another. With so much diversity, it is nearly impossible for two individuals to have exactly the same experiences throughout their lives. Thus, being or not being offended is dependent mainly on the receiver and not on the communicator.

At this crucial point it is necessary to distinguish between an ‘offensive speech’ and a ‘libelous speech’. Neither are they inclusive concepts, nor overlapping. They are two completely distinct concepts. A very necessary element of a libel is the ‘intention to harm reputation’ of the other. This is not the case with offensive speech. Speech or expression considered to be offensive becomes offensive only when the person it is addressed to objects to it. However, a libelous speech remains libelous irrespective of what the receiver thinks or feels about it. A libelous speech is bound to harm the reputation of another person while an offensive speech harms the reputation of the other person only when the speech so made reveals a truth.

Free speech should not be restricted, unless it is libelous.

If individuals are protected from feeling offended, it is bound to increase intolerance. Intolerance simply means not to be able to tolerate a different perspective or point of view, be it on religion, caste, economics, polity or what so ever. Intolerance among different communities in its extreme form leads to communal riots and thus disrupts the peace of any society. This is not desired for by anyone.

On the other hand, if freedom of speech and expression includes the right to offend the sentiments of certain sections of the society then people will know that there exist ideas beyond what they believe in. This will develop tolerance which is necessary for maintenance of peace and harmony in a given society.

Thus, freedom of speech and expression must include the right to offend certain sections of the society not because receiver is offended but because receiver has to be made aware of countering viewpoints and ideas.

Asia Liberty Forum: Advancing Liberty & Markets in Asia

Asia Centre for Enterprise (ACE) will host a public celebration of liberty aimed at Advancing Liberty & Markets in Asia, by bringing together 200 change makers, including some of the best liberal minds from Asia and around the world. The second Asia Liberty Forum will provide a much needed platform to identify critical issues plaguing Asia, explore strategies to face the challenges ahead, and generate ways to strengthen the liberal movement in this part of the world. ACE aspires to make the Asia Liberty Forum a crucial catalyst for connecting and supporting intellectual entrepreneurs in Asia.

Over two days, distinguished intellectuals, think tank leaders, policy makers, business leaders, and change makers will present their work and views on various facets of modern Asia. The forum provides a unique opportunity to interact closely with distinguished experts across various fields; some who are tackling Asia’s unique development challenges, and others who bring international experience and perspectives towards charting our future course.

The objective of the two-day forum is to:

  • Highlight the inspiring work “Freedom Champions” have been doing in recent years throughout Asia
  • Feature innovative projects from around the globe that think tank leaders can replicate at home
  • Provide insights to those who are trying to affect change in some of Asia’s most troubled places.

Asia Centre for Enterprise is a social change seed partnership launched by Atlas Economic Research Foundation and Centre for Civil Society in 2012 to identify and support individuals and organisations that promote liberal ideas and policies in Asia. ACE will play the role in Asia that Atlas Foundation plays globally, acting as a mentor and intellectual angel investor.

Our vision is to help create a beaming Asia under the leadership of entrepreneurial visionaries interested in liberal ideas and action.

Our mission is to discover idealists and activists in Asia, empower them through mentorship and training, support them by providing start up grants to develop and scale up their ideas into action and connect them with liberal organisations and individuals globally.

Asia Liberty Forum 2013 saw over 200 freedom champions from across 30 countries come together in Delhi for a 2-day celebration of liberty. For a sneak peak on what happened during ALF 2013, watch some of the best videos here, and see pictures from the eventhere.


Online registrations now open, click here.

The Need for a Student Movement for Liberty in India

In India, the rise of the first modern student movement for liberty followed the growth of a movement outside the walls of the university. Indian student activism started in 1928 under the Indian National Congress for the political Independence of India from the British Government. Students of the Indian freedom movement founded the All India Student federation (AISF) on August 12, 1936. The Federation had a nationalist and radical mission, focusing on independence for India from British rule. The political and cultural differences within Indian society fragmented the student organization with the formation of the All-India Muslim Students Federation (AIMSF) in 1937.

From 1947- 2013, many students formed student organizations in support of political parties and their respective ideologies. In today’s India, students have become key elements in the political development of parties. However, leaders of student organizations don’t have majority decision-making power even in their own organizational issues. The mother party usually determines the functioning and working style of the student wing. Moving into more autonomous spheres, student organizations have begun to focus on specific student-related issues such as tuition fees, admissions policies and academic freedom under the support of parties. They become the backbones to both political and nonpolitical movements for liberty. In some universities students formed independent groups to tackle causes like corruption, freedom, youth and women’s empowerment, and more.

Today, Indian students are playing a significant role in the social and economic development of their country. Even political parties struggle to run events without a student wing. Recently, two great protests happened in all major Indian cities against corruption and for women’s freedom and security (Nirbaya movement). Thousands of youth took to the streets to advocate for the rule of law.

It goes without saying that major liberalization reforms are needed in all parts of India. Partial economic liberalization in 1991 had very positive effects on the Indian economy, leading it to become one of the largest in the world. Many Indians have since realized the importance of liberalization and the principles of liberty.

Some liberal foundations, think tanks and youth organizations are working to spread the philosophy of liberty and reforms in several areas like education, health, judicial processes, economics and electoral politics. This is a start, but it isn’t enough to spread the philosophy of liberty in developing countries like India. We need more youth activism to spread effectively in the country; we must involve more students in this historical student movement to realize a golden future in India.

Indian students are waiting for many reforms: they wish to enhance their personal and intellectual development through better choice in education; they wish to increase employment opportunities through free markets; they wish to protect human rights with a strong rule of law. Young people are fed up with poverty, corruption and inequality in opportunities.

Indian students need an independent student platform to organize for the principles of liberty. This platform would present us with an opportunity to educate students about liberty and develop ever greater numbers of leaders in more regions across India. It should be a place to network, exchange organizing techniques and share experiences from all cultural backgrounds about a philosophy that touches all of our lives, across all globalized borders.

This is the reason why India needs a global movement for liberty like Students for Liberty (SFL). This is why we choose SFL.

Who we are

SFL – South India is An official charter team of SFL International that supports liberty.SFL-SI is an liberal student organization whose mission is to provide a unified, student-driven forum of support for students and dedicated to liberty in South India.

SFL does not dictate the foundations upon which individuals justify their belief in liberty. Rather, Students For Liberty embraces the diversity of justifications for liberty and encourages debate and discourse on the differing philosophies that underlie liberty.

What Students For Liberty endorses are the principles that comprise liberty:
  • Economic freedom to choose how to provide for one’s life.
  • Social freedom to choose how to live one’s life.
  • Intellectual and academic freedom.
Why in India :

Indian Youth and students are waiting for many reforms:

  •  They wish to enhance their personal and intellectual development through better choice in education;
  • They wish to increase employment opportunities through free markets;
  • they wish to protect human rights with a strong rule of law.
  • Young people are fed up with poverty, corruption and inequality in opportunities.
We are open to all who are interested in spreading ideas of liberty in South India. If you are student, volunteer or non-governmental organisation, please feel free to join our network.