One political party believes that it is alright to allow Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) everywhere, but in multi-brand retail. Another thinks that doling out more entitlements is the only way to ensure social justice and equality of opportunity. Even another party believes that the best way to control corruption amongst bureaucrats and politicians is by instituting another layer of bureaucracy. And, they all believe in ever greater role for state intervention.

Amongst all this, do Indian voters really have a choice?   

I fail to see a real choice available for voters. It looks as if various political parties have identified some of their core constituencies based on religious/caste lines (support base) and what issue is most important to them. They have then gone on to put it all together in one document that they call their “Party Manifesto”. A closer look at this document of all parties show that there is an absence of coherence in their thinking.

Moreover, it is not as if political parties in India are held accountable to promises made by them. And since they are not held accountable to their promises, why bother with what is promised?

When we go buy goods in the market, there is a certain implicit promise made by the seller to the buyer that he/she should expect a minimum level of utility in its quality and use. If the seller defrauds the buyer, there exists a recourse that addresses the harm caused. Such a thing is totally absent when voters choose their representatives by voting based on promises made.

The quote below by Alan Reynolds published in the National Review (1992) makes a pertinent point that is often remiss on many of us –

“The political market unlike economic markets, suffers from total absence of consumer protection.”

There are no political party in India today that does not compromise on its principles, that is, if they have any in the first place. A party that stands by what it says, no matter what. A party that does not swing in the direction that the current wind is blowing.

So, what is the solution?

Needed – A Liberal Party for India

In what may now seems like a very long time ago, India once had a real choice in Swatantra Party. The party stood for the principles of “maximum freedom for the individual and minimum interference by the state”. One may not agree with all their principles (there were 21 of them as adopted at their preparatory convention held in Bombay in August 1959), but at least they had outlined it clearly and to the best of my knowledge, practiced it.

In the absence of clear principles, manifestos today have become a hodgepodge of random ideas thrown in together. This makes it difficult to pre-empt their stand on any issue that may come up tomorrow which their voters can hold them accountable to.

Contrast today’s political parties with Swatantra Party of 1960s. In its clearly laid-out principles, the party demonstrated a clear vision. There was coherence in its thoughts and actions.

It is a shame that we do not have such a choice in India today. I hope we get that option soon.

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PS: OPEN magazine in its 7 April issue has carried a story on Swatantra Party and Mr S V Raju (party’s Executive Secretary since its inception in 1959), aptly titled “Last Man Standing”. Mr Raju has been the editor of Freedom First since 1985, the magazine started by Minoo Masani.  

Ek Hi Thali Ke Chatte Batte is a Hindi phrase which loosely translated could mean Two Sides of the Same Coin. 

7 Comments on Ek Hi Thali Ke Chatte Batte – Do Indian Voters Really Have A Choice?

  1. Answer to our travails cannot reside in spawning another political party, humans are fallible and politicians behave the way they do because of various incentives shaped by the surrounding institutions. There is a reason why they all pander to the baser instincts, Hayek’s explanation on “Why the Worst Get on Top” is always worth studying.

    Unfortunately there is no panacea here, no one solution, we can only hope that tradition evolves the Indian society in the direction of “Individualism”. Hayekian cultural evolution is an effective tool to understand history, it explains the mechanism at work, how tradition of western civilization evolved and surpassed everything which we, Arabs and the Chinese could offer.

    It might be unrealistic to expect everyone to study literature and understand the rather counter-intuitive principles of classical liberalism, Quite like how protestant work ethics changed western society we need to hope that the Indian ethos which will eventually come to dominate our future be build on the foundations of freedom and not collectivism.

  2. Kumar Anand says:

    Thanks for your comments, Mahesh. I agree with your observations.

    How and what strands of Indian traditions you see evolving in the direction of “Individualism”?

  3. Hello Anand,
    Thank you for your response, sometimes i do hate my cynicism.

    Your question is pertinent and involving, I have thought about it numerous times. Indian pluralism is indeed unfathomable, for centuries we had existed in a strictly hierarchical social order, may be tolerance is indeed part of our DNA, glad that it is a definite virtue for the maintenance of a liberal order.

    “Though freedom is not a state of nature but an artifact of civilization,it did not arise from design” – F.A.Hayek

    It’s overwhelming for me to think through any specific lineage of traditional values which will evolve the society in the direction of individualism but seems like in past the development of individualism correlated with freedom; so at the minimum we need to get rid of this pretense of central planning.

    We had already achieved a monumental task by constructing a western institution like democracy on top of our existing ethnic order, spontaneously coordinating our aggregate actions with the requirements of a foreign political institution was far from trivial, this might mean we already possess certain western cultural attributes.

    Fortunately we have a highly diverse population and a correspondingly rich set of skills, we are indeed equipped with a variety of civilization building tools but the challenge is to identify their exact combination suitable for particular real world situations. As cliched as it may sound the only thing we might have to do is remove obstacles, let cultural and market evolution define the Indian brand of individualism, the US constitution and bill of rights in effect took this exact approach of negative liberties.

    • Kumar Anand says:

      Dear Mahesh,

      Many thanks for your thoughts. I really appreciate it.

      Indeed, development of “individualism” seems correlated with “freedom” to me too. True, removing barriers to “catallactics”, when defined not just in the limited meaning of “exchange” but also as a wider understanding as Hayek liked it to mean – hitherto unknown people coming together to benefit from each other through trade, should lead us in the direction of “individualism”. Spontaneous Order, indeed! :-)

      • True, a very elegant & abstract classification for an open society.

        In ‘The Sensory Order’ Hayek explains how mind comprehends physical phenomenons through abstract mental maps, If only someone can impress up on the majority among our population that a modern society need not be a top-down organized machinery but instead as you mentioned it has to be a catallaxy.

        Thank you!

  4. There definitely needs to be a national liberal party. There are already at least three broadly liberal parties: Lok Satta, Navbharat and Swatantra Bharat Party. Swarna Bharat Party is also being registered. Plus elements of liberalism in Jago Party and another group Bharatam. Indian Liberal Group also has pretensions to liberal political activity (I say pretensions since their President Meera Sanyal has joined AAP a comprehensively socialist party).

    It is a matter of time when these groups and others will come together.

    • Kumar Anand says:

      Dear Sanjeev,

      Thanks for your comments.

      Indeed, we desperately need a national liberal party to move the debate away from some or the other form of “interventionism”. It is also heartening to see a number of small liberal parties/groups making their presence felt. The challenge is to scale and learning to market liberal ideas.

      On a personal note, I share your disappointment over the developments at Indian Liberal Group and Meera Sanyal.

What do you think