Liberalism in India – Past, Present and Future

Liberalism in India – Past, Present and Future : Essays in Honour of S V Raju

Edited by Parth J. Shah

Published by Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi

Year:2016; Pages:247

This collection of essays on Liberalism is a Festschrift honouring the memory of S. V. Raju.  It is a tribute to his commitment to creating a freer India.

The book was released at a function held in New Delhi on November 20, 2016.  Incidentally, the day marks the 111th birth anniversary of Minoo Masani.  While today, May 19, 2017 is the second death anniversary of Mr. Raju.  

The book is the culmination of a year’s effort of a group of fifteen liberal-minded individuals.  Some of them convened at a seminar exactly a year before its release to deliberate the topics that will constitute the contents of the book.  Dr. Parth Shah rightly notes in his introduction “…… Even in his passing, Mr. Raju helped convene liberals to discuss the past, present and the future of liberalism in India……”

The Liberal Dilemma

The chapters in the book can be categorized under two main headings – “Liberal Conflict” and “Liberal Implications”, relevant to today’s India.  While one set of chapters discusses the conflict between liberty, a primary political value for a liberal, and other values such as equality, security, democracy, reservations and the state welfare systems, the other set of chapters deals with the ways and means that will help develop the value of liberty, such as a liberal constitution, local self-governments, cultural and religious freedoms.

If one only follows the profoundly simple ten principles (listed in the introductory chapter) as laid down by the American pastor, William John Boetcker, it will be an insightful resolution to the liberty conflict issues, will promote a liberal constitution and sound public policies, thereby fostering a peaceful, liveable society.

Seetha’s Tribute to Raju

Seetha’s portrayal of Mr. Raju as the “Last Man Standing” is very apt.  She brings out his strength of character and personality when she writes that he was “…..the quintessential backroom boy ……. but knew exactly what was going on …… Raju had the whole picture”.

Despite hardships that he suffered in his growing up years, Raju took charge of his self, early in life and following a short stint at a labour union office run by his uncle, he applied for (on this uncle’s suggestion) and was selected as Executive Secretary of the Swatantra Party at its headquarters in Bombay:

“…… And Singanallur Venkataraman Raju, all of twenty-six years old, began a life-long tryst with the liberal movement in India……”  His job brought him in contact with the stalwarts of that time and “…… opened up a whole new world of liberal ideas for him ……” writes Seetha.

Admiring his organizational skills, which make him a dependable person at his workplace, Seetha remarks “…… On organizational matters, it was his word that prevailed ……”.  Perhaps she writes this from her own interactions with him, too.

Mr. Raju’s dependability is brought forth in the faith that Rajaji (C. Rajagopalachari) had in him when, six months before the grand old man’s passing away, he tells Raju to “…… Carry on and keep the ‘old guard’ of the party together”.  Seetha comments “Carry on Raju certainly did.”  But alas, destiny had other plans for the future of the nation.

Raju’s efforts to register the Swatantra Party in the 1990s failed and he was compelled to file a writ petition before the Bombay High Court challenging the Representation of the People’s Act.  That not a single hearing took place disheartened him and he felt disappointed at not being able to reactivate the Party, in spite of his best efforts to do so.

However, Raju was not a person who would lose faith so easily.  He continued to encourage other initiatives to start liberal parties and groups.  Seetha describes this as “…… the start of a period that defined the second half of his life, totally dedicated to spreading the flame of liberalism in India ……” through the Indian Liberal Group (ILG) which he revived, Project for Economic Education (PEE) and his all-favourite Freedom First which “…… saw Raju getting back his writing mojo ……” says Seetha, “…… As Editor of Freedom First, Raju blossomed as a liberal ideologue.”

raju-lighting-lamp-at-ilg-first-convention.jpg
Raju lighting lamp at ILG’s First National Convention, Hyderabad, December 2002

Raju’s professional pre-occupations did not come in the way of his being the good family man.  His family was “…… the centre of Raju’s universe ……”  Seetha paints a beautiful picture of Raju as the caring and loving husband and father.  She writes about his spell with a German firm in Jeddah where he worked in an administrative capacity, only as a means to earn enough money to sustain the family.  Obviously, he did not like it there, being the creative person that he was.  Other jobs followed that allowed him to continue with his passion and his writing.

Seetha brings out Raju’s closeness to Minoo Masani who relied on him and had full faith in him to entrust him with the various organizations that he founded.  Raju too looked up to him as his mentor.

Among the organizations, Project for Economic Education was most active under Raju’s guidance and Seetha reminiscences her initiative and involvement with the Liberal Budgets and seminars organized to educate journalists on the concept of liberal economics and the liberal approach to economic problems.  But she laments that the initial enthusiasm and efforts put in by those involved, including her, faded out, as they could not devote enough time to it.

Raju & Seetha
Seetha with S.V. Raju at Liberal Budget meeting in Delhi, June 2004

The ILG too became an effective organization and under Raju’s direction, state and local chapters were formed.  Raju stressed that “…… the revival of a liberal dialogue should not be an end in itself, but the means to the end which is the restoration of liberal values in India.”  The group is still active and is carrying on the legacy under a new leadership.

Keeping the Flame of Liberalism Alive

Lord John Alderdice, Member of Parliament, House of Lords remembers his first meeting with Mr. Raju in 2008 when he, in his capacity as President of the Liberal International was invited to New Delhi for a symposium on “Opportunities for Liberalism in India”.  It was then that he learnt from his talks with Raju and D. N. Patodia (Swatantra Party’s MP in the 4th Lok Sabha) about “…… the difficulties for liberals and political liberalism in a country where a political party would not be officially recognized unless it proclaimed itself supportive of socialism”.

Admiring Raju’s guts, Lord Alderdice writes “S.V. Raju was a much too ‘dyed in the wool’ liberal to sign up for such a statement” just like his hero Minoo Masani and a staunch follower of the Gandhian belief that however worthwhile the end, the means to achieve it must also be clean.  This statement says much about Raju’s personal honesty and intellectual integrity.  For him, people were important.

Lord John Alderdice
Lord John Alderdice (Courtesy : Wikipedia)

Lord Alderdice recollects the speech he gave in 2008 when he spoke about some aspects of Liberalism and its relevance today – especially in comparison with Conservatism and Socialism – a comparison which S. V. Raju would regularly have made himself.  He writes “When I say I am a liberal it is because I subscribe to certain ideas and values that are important for me, and I strive for objectives in accordance with these values.”  He stresses the need for a lively and serious debate, an open political arena and parties representing different approaches engaging in the debate.  If we talk things over together rationally and reflectively, we may be able to correct some of our mistakes, and get nearer to the truth – though we will never actually arrive at a position of ‘absolute truth’.

He affirms “…… S. V. Raju practiced these fundamental liberal principles and it was his adherence to these principles and his regular conveying of the implications and potential impact of those liberal principles in everyday life as well as in high politics that are his lasting contribution to the political life of this great country.”  His closing remarks are a wonderful tribute to this principled man:

“The finest epitaph for him would be written, not in stone or even on this page, but in the lives of a new generation carrying forward the message of the Gandhian liberalism to which S. V. Raju adhered, and spreading it out across the people of his beloved homeland.”

To order a copy, write to Centre for Civil Society, A-69, Hauz Khas, New Delhi 110016.  Tel: 011-26537456 or e-mail publication@ccs.in  

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