A reader, S V Raju wrote in recently to Mint that he tried to rejuvenate the Party so that voters in India would have an alternative to the socialist policies that are peddled by current parties. Bloggers have made the case for such a party in India at least for the sake of choice spurred on by a similar comment by Jaithrith Rao in Mint on the lack of a quasi-libertarian alternative. Considering the extent of progress India has made since we opened up our economy, it is strange that no political party considers using economic reforms as a election plank to make a case. Admittedly voters will not understand complex issues that have led to economic growth but it is merely a matter of putting issues into simple words (spin?) that the common man can relate to. Putting things into perspective by elaborating on how economic reforms have made their life better (daily life examples) or how they are now offered more opportunities and choices thanks to small changes in their lives such as easier availability of cell phones as compared to waiting for a land line.
If current parties aren’t interested in leveraging economic reforms for political gain, then you might think that a new party might be, right? As mentioned above, S V Raju tried to do exactly that:
I have been trying to register a party that is expressly opposed to socialism and that I have made very little headway. In fact, I tried to register the old Swatantra Party (there was no registration required in the old days) but my application for registration was rejected.
An amendment to the Representation of the People Act made when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister stipulated that the constitution or the rules and regulations of political parties should contain a provision swearing loyalty to democracy, secularism and socialism. The Election Commission sent me a form for registration which I completed and returned, accepting democracy and secularism but rejecting socialism, as the Swatantra Party was opposed to it in principle. The registration was turned down.
A friend and I filed a writ petition in the Bombay high court in December 1996. The writ was admitted. It has still to come up for hearing. This is the hurdle. Under current law, no party that refuses to accept socialism can get registered as a political party. So much for our democracy!
Should S V Raju lie to form his libertarian party?
So there, if you wish to float a political party in India, you must swear by socialism which in fact is merely an economic alternative for governance. India is actually departing away (although not as much as we wish it would) from such a style of governance post-liberalization in 1991. When Nitin mentioned this on his blog, few readers suggested that Raju could have easily lied and later continued on his free-market policies. After all, parties like the Congress and the Communist parties although being sworn to socialism and statism freely practice economic reforms that are far from socialism. Raju found his way to Nitin’s comment space and left this insightful comment on if he should have lied:
It would be a lie and a lie is a lie whatever the reason. And the Election Commission?s demands it because it is part of the Representation of the People Act. The raison d?etre for a liberal party is based on certain values. Without values we would be just another party like all the others merely adding to the multitude of the power hungry. Our aim ought to be getting democracy back on track and all that it entails and not as of now ? a five year ritual.
How true. The main grouse should be against the ridiculous clause in the Representation of the People Act that makes it impossible to have a principled stance against socialism. Even the champion of
conservatism capitalism, United States has a socialist party which by name spells political suicide in their electoral scene. Nevertheless it wasn’t denied the opportunity to exist. It hosted a Presidential candidate as late as 1956 and although it has now been reduced to a think-tank, its members held important positions in subsequent governments. Are the Indian authorities are scared that American-style ‘imperialism’ will sweep India? Many people opposing the idea of a quasi-libertarian party say that it is not politically feasible. Well, in that case let us give those interested in such a party a chance and let the voters decide. After all, as the free market proponent would say, let the market decide if such a party has any takers. But we’ll never know unless they are given an opportunity.