Dearth of Libertarianism in India

Indian Congress Party flag. Source: The Indian Express.
Indian Congress Party flag. Source: The Indian Express.

India, a country often depicted as an exotic place with religious people spending their lives either praying, or eating spicy food, or working in call centers. The country’s political affairs are often discussed, especially its economy. Despite all such discussions, not many people know the real politics in India.

India was started as a staunch socialist country. The country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, propagated that the private and public sectors should coexist to sustain the economy. This mixed economy policy didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now. Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Nehru and a controversial PM of India, nationalized almost every dominant market leader and every bank in India during her tenure.

Jawaharlal Nehru first Prime Minister of India.
Jawaharlal Nehru first Prime Minister of India.

The reason behind these socialistic roots can be explained by the wretched condition of the majority of Indian populace during the British rule.

People were living in poverty, discriminated by the ruling British, and neglected by the powerful Indians. When leaders like Gandhi (Mohandas, not Indira) and Nehru promised that the Indian government after independence would take care of the poor and destitute, the populace found hope in their words. They enthusiastically participated in the strikes and protests organized by the leaders and once independence was achieved, they overwhelmingly voted for the Congress Party, the party with which majority of the freedom fighters were associated. A majority of these fighters were on the left in the political spectrum. As a result, with no classically liberal or capitalist party in opposition, the Congress Party continued its socialist schemes in India.

There were leaders like Minoo Masani who championed the cause of free market economics and vehemently protested the mass nationalization scheme undertaken by the Indira Gandhi government, but they were too few and ineffectual. The first real change came in the early 90s, when the then Finance Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh liberalized India’s markets, allowing foreign presence. This changed everything. India was now perceived as an untamed market by foreign companies and more and more investments piled in. The same thing was continued by future Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) and is being continued by the current PM Narendra Modi.

The problem lies in a lot of public sector companies.

Minoo Masani, India's only classical liberal leader.
Minoo Masani, India’s only popular classical liberal leader.

The mixed economy started by Nehru meant that Indian taxpayers would have to ensure that the state-owned companies will be able to challenge its competitors in a fiercely-challenging market. BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited) is a state-owned telecom company providing cheap rates and decent service. This doesn’t change the fact that it is unnecessary in today’s India. Indian companies like Airtel, Idea, Reliance have already developed a market and have been joined by foreign companies like Vodafone and Telenor. And this burden on the taxpayers is not only in the telecom industry, but also in every other important field including oil and aviation.

Also, Indian railways are nationalized. They always were nationalized, and according to Modi, they will remain nationalized for the foreseeable future. Although the current Railways Minister, Suresh Prabhu, is doing a better job than all of his predecessors, the IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) still needs a major overhaul, which can be only achieved by privatization.

These factors are the economic ones. Socially, we (Indians) are far behind. Homosexuality is criminalized. Use of marijuana – albeit extremely popular – is illegal. Beef has been banned in some states. Alcohol has been banned in some other states.

One thing I’ve understood is that banning doesn’t help any cause, it just helps create an underground black market, where many of the products are adulterated and sometimes fatal. Legalization of all the aforementioned activities should be the correct way, but none of the leading political parties in the country are ready to take a stance.

Dr. Manmohan Singh, brilliant Finance Minister, ineffective. Prime Minister.
Dr. Manmohan Singh, brilliant Finance Minister, ineffective. Prime Minister.

Also, Indian bureaucracy is perhaps the world’s most corrupt ecosystem. The amount of red-tapism and corruption there is unmatched. There are abundant governmental organizations doing needless, redundant work; work which would’ve been done better by any private organization.

The biggest issue, according to me at least, is the lack of an uniform civil code. Muslims in India have a separate set of laws as compared to the other religions. It is possible for a Muslim man to have as many as four wives in India. These archaic rules were created by the ruling Congress Party to consolidate the Muslim vote, which is the biggest minority. They have been vehemently opposed by both conservative and liberal organizations, but the Congress Party and some regional parties continue to be supportive of these antediluvian rules.

Such special treatment given to a particular religion is added on with encroachment of per

sonal liberty by banning alcohol and beef. Plus, the society is constantly reminded that it is divided on the basis of caste by the politicians and the mainstream media.

India has to go a long way before appearing liberal. There’s no dearth of pseudo-liberals here. You can support Pakistan openly, say that Kashmir belongs to Pakistan, start rioting about it and yet get defended by people. And you can also claim that crony capitalism is ruining the nation when capitalism has never been given a chance. There’s a reason why Indian businessmen like Ratan Tata (of the Tata group) and Dhirubhai Ambani (Reliance group) are so respected in India. They defeated a system which was created to defeat capitalism and created their own empire, uplifting millions in the process.

One can only hope that the politicians learn their lesson about socialism soon.

* Varun Gajendragadkar is a junior year engineering student from India with an avid interest in politics. He is on the centre-right of the political spectrum with libertarian-ish views. He also maintains his own blog. Varun can be reached at [email protected]

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