Salil Tripathi being awarded the third place in the Bastiat Prize is not really momentous news. However, what piqued my interest was some information that I received from a friend. My friend concluded her note with these words “Amazing! So Leftists are now getting the Bastiat Prize! Nice!”

One of the defining things was when I spoke to some of my leftist journalist friends in Delhi who gloated about Salil’s prize was that they used it as an example to ridicule the West. They simply said that the Bastiat Award folks are “useful idiots.”

The one conclusive thing that emerged from my extensive research – Salil Tripathi, is essentially a “left liberal”.  He has managed to package and position himself as a libertarian. The folks who run the Bastiat prize appear to have been persuaded  by  faux ideological credentials and awarded him the third prize (mercifully, not the first).

Frederic  Bastiat unequivocally stood for freedom and opposed any form of government interference unlike Salil Tripathi who has supported government regulations in the economy, interventions by IMF, and squelching of free-speech (until he discovered his patrons in UK). The wealth of evidence below speaks for itself.

The behavior of supporting socialism one day, then supporting Paul Krugman on another, opposing free-speech one day and defending it on another does not make one a defender of liberty.

Note that his employers and publications he has written for have been from the radical left: Amnesty International, New Statesman, Index on censorship, and Guardian, to name a few.

Selective defense of freespeech

In 1989, Salil Tripathi came up with a laundry list of people who had burnt books without taking a position on the Salman Rushdie affair. This was intended to tacitly defend Islamists like Khomeini  – we were supposed to read that it was okay for Khomeini to do what he did. This is understandable because the Rajiv Gandhi government supported Khomeini.

He was also silent on the Taslima Nasrin case for many years after it happened. Of course, now he writes articles sneaking in a line reversing all his past misdeeds because he is masquerading as a libertarian. That does not count. Unless one takes a stand in a timely manner, one is not a defender of freedom. Where was Salil when it really mattered? This retrospective repackaging of himself as a libertarian is clever by half ploy

Here’s Salil Tripathi opposing free-speech rights while supporting “the leftists, the centrists and the socialists:”

The banning of a play in Bombay that is sympathetic to the assassin of Mohandas Gandhi has sparked a bitter debate and raised critical questions about the kind of nation India wants to be — secular, democratic and liberal, or nationalist and Hindu.

The controversy over the play reflects a greater drama being played out on the nation’s political stage. On one side are those who believe in the 50-year-old liberal democratic model, represented by the leftists, the centrists and the socialists. On the other are those who seek a nationalist, Hindu model, championed by RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh and its political arm, the BharatiyaJanata Party, and other pro-Hindu nationalist parties like the Shiv Sena.

In another instance, he devotes the first half of the article to attacking Geert Wilders (even the defense that follows is a muted defense proving he simply takes sides):

In yet another article attacking Baba Ramdev, there’s no mention of “free speech” in the entire article. Instead it is an attack on Baba Ramdev who was the victim! Apparently, Hindus aren’t allowed freedom never mind the murderous attack. What’s more, an escape from the murderous attack is cause for ridicule in the case of Hindus:

However, when it involves the White Massa William Dalrymple, freedom for the Massa! Oppression when Massa is involved even if Massa ran away from the scene despite no attack on him! The whole nation has been silenced by a lawsuit against you! Lawsuit against you is injury to whole nation! Dalrymple Massa, my precioussss Massa!

Supports welfare systems and endorses AmartyaSen’s views

And here is Salil Tripathi writing in 1999 endorsing the setting up of welfare systems and speaking approvingly of Nobel Laurete AmartyaSen:  Sen’s unquenchable love of Communist China had led him to remark 7 years ago that the “Cultural revolution” of China that wiped out millions of Chinese lives had actually made great strides.Here’s Salil endorsing Sen:

Asian leaders have often criticised the `welfare queens’ of the West, and warned the local population against entertaining thoughts of a welfare state. But while western critics of welfare have at least seen the excesses welfare can breed, the overzealous Asian critics have yet to see even the most basic forms of welfare implemented in the region.

Setting up a welfare system, as understood in the West – now considered necessary by the World Bank and even the IMF – will demand more money than is available and fiscal deficits, a dent in the much vaunted savings rate of Asia.

If we apply Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s study of famines to the Asian crisis, perhaps this was to be expected.

Defends controls and regulations by government

The poor but well-meaning folks at Bastiat who sincerely work towards bringing down barriers to enterprise haven’t perhaps read Salil Tripathi who advocated as recently as last year that governments should impose restrictions on business. Here he is advocating government control on business:

Governments cannot outsource those critical measures to business. Business cannot avoid calls for due diligence.

And then in a speech at Amnesty International, his former employer, he openly calls for more regulations:

Amnesty International has no view on linking codes of conduct to international agreements. But we believe all companies, like all individuals and governments, are obliged to preserve, promote and protect the UDHR, the rights of children, ILO conventions, and respect for international law.

Codes of conduct are substitute to government regulations only to the extent that they anticipate regulation. They are trend-setters, they point the way forward.

And he’s quoted in this piece ( where he approves regulations:

What is needed, says Tripathi, are more effective regulatory mechanisms. “We need identifiable universal standards, and law, if necessary, to regulate the conduct of companies, particularly to prevent grave abuses of human rights,” he says.

If that’s not enough, at another place, Salil Tripathi acts as a cheerleader for the World Bank and IMF controlling economies.

Poorer countries are at last standing up to them. But for all their flaws, the IMF and the World Bank remain forces for global good…

Nobody, it seems, is taking the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank seriously any more – not even the hosts of its annual meeting. The fund and the bank support civil society participation and free expression…

The IMF and the World Bank may seem chastened, but gloating over their diminishing significance is not necessarily desirable. For all their perceived shortcomings, the fund and the bank act with global interests at heart.

It seems the advocating-control streak is quite irrepressible in Salil Tripathi. If it’s about advocating governmental controls in business, it’s about resenting the success of entrepreneurs. In the following piece, he alleges the exploitation of workers in Silicon Valley:

Actually it’s far more than a mere streak. Here, in a speech made while Salil Tripathi was working at Amnesty International, he threatens corporations with imposing regulations if they didn’t fall in line:

Twenty years later, no self-respecting company in the extractive industry is without an emissions standard and independent monitoring of the pollutants it releases in the air, in the water or under the sea….Codes of corporate citizenship are drafted in a more amorphous manner today than codes of corporate governance, which have the backing of regulations and committees like the Cadbury Committee here and ISO standards worldwide. But it will not be long before what’s expected of companies will be required of companies. Wise companies will plan their behaviour accordingly. (Ed: Emphasis added)

This is the same Salil Tripathi who today masquerades as a free-speech and free-trade champion who opposes freedom of association and wants government interference to bust associations:

The state has absolute—and higher—responsibility. Individuals can’t be forced to be inclusive. But in excluding someone if they apply extraneous considerations, then some enforcement is necessary.

Closing Remarks

This is just a small sample of the nature of Salil Tripathi’s “support” for free enterprise. The fact that he’s associated mostly with radical Left outfits like New Statesman, Index on censorship, Guardian et al is enough to diminish his claims about being a free-speech and free-trade supporter. The bulk of his writing in his long career as a journalist appears in Leftist outfits like this, not to mention his employment with Amnesty International.

It appears that the Bastiat Prize folks committee have not done their home work in ascertaining the ideological antecedents of Salil Tripathi. Their page announcing the prize to Salil Tripathi lists exactly three pieces by him: all these three pieces do indeed support free trade. But I suppose Bastiat Prize committee did not really perform well its job of due diligence. Salil Tripathi has been anything  but supportive of free enterprise. Small wonder why my journalist friends said that the Bastiat Award folks are “useful idiots.”

(Author is a well-wisher of CRI )

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