Valuing and Preserving Our Political Freedom 

 On 15th August 1947, India finally tasted political freedom. To be able to say that we are a citizen of a free country is a matter of great pride and honor. Today, we can proudly say that we are in-charge of our destiny. We can frame our own rules, our own laws. We are, to a significant extent, free. 

A quick look at our history will tell us that we have been political slaves for centuries. Initially the invaders from Central Asia plundered and destroyed our civilization. Then came the Mughals, the English East India Company and finally the British monarchs who continued to reign over us.

We are fortunate because we were born in a politically free and independent India. Our forefathers had to struggle for centuries to win this independence and they paid a heavy price for it – a sacrifice that we now take for granted. Families lost sons and the nation sacrificed heroes. We lost large parts of our geographical territory as the country was divided on religious grounds.

Unfortunately our founding fathers led by Nehru failed to fully comprehend the concept of ‘freedom’. While they focused on, what Isaiah Berlin referred to, as ‘positive freedoms’, they ignored ‘negative freedoms’. Negative freedom is essentially the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints faced by an individual in a society. Positive freedom refers to the ability of an individual to realize one’s full potential. The erosion of negative freedoms – such as of the no longer fundamental right to property – created obstacles for Indians to venture into entrepreneurship. This hindered employment generation and economic prosperity. Rather than giving freedom to the people, Nehru gave powers to bureaucrats and politicians. Consequently India registered sluggish growth rates for the next four decades while countries such as South Korea, Singapore and China raced ahead. The economic and governance structure erected by Nehru continues to haunt us.

To strengthen our political freedom, we need to demolish this perverse economic structure. In his address to the nation on the Independence eve, PM Manmohan Singh has pointed out that we need to treat slow growth as a matter of national security. He can’t be more right. Slow growth will mean fewer jobs for the young and more violence by the restless. This state of anarchy can be avoided by enabling rapid economic growth which in turn generates employment to those often left out. We need to continue the process of economic reforms that started in 1991 and further liberalize the economy and give a chance to the younger generation to showcase their entrepreneurial talent.

However, policy paralysis at the Central level and a slew of populist policies in the last few years has resulted in sharp reductions in growth rates. This has been accompanied by increasing inflation, rising unemployment and the process of brain drain to other countries. Entrepreneurs are feeling stifled. Credit rating agencies have already downgraded India as an investment destination. Uncertain conditions at home are forcing the domestic industrialists to invest abroad.

A study titled “Rethinking Inequality: Dalits in Uttar Pradesh in Market reforms era” by Devesh Kapur, University of Pennsylvania, has brought out the fact that the market reforms of the 1991s has actually improved the socio-economic condition of Dalits. Hence we should strive to further liberalize the economy. This will not only boost the economy but also improve the social and economic conditions of the left out sections of the society.

We need to bolster trade relations with countries across the world. A strong economy will make us indispensable in world affairs. India needs to make the World a stakeholder in ‘its’ progress. Any troubles with India should spell troubles for the world. Hence India will find natural partners and friends.

We must remember that our independence is very fragile. If we do not pay attention to preserving it, than we can easily loose it. Ramachandra Guha, an Indian historian at the London School of Economics has some worthwhile points to make.

He talks about the rising Maoist insurgency in the parts of Central India. This is largely due to lack of growth, development and general governance deficit. Another contributing factor is the mad rush for mining which has displaced the tribals.

We are surrounded by hostile neighbors. In the north is China, with which we share bitter memories of 1962. In our west is a hostile, politically unstable and “nuclear” Pakistan who continues to sponsor terrorism in our country. In the east is a democratically fragile Bangladesh.

Guha also points out at the rigid caste system, rise of fundamentalism in all communities in response to Islamic fundamentalism, conversion of political parties into family firms and nepotism amongst other serious challenges that India face. There are political disturbances in Kashmir, Mizoram and Nagaland.  Arbitrary legislative acts like the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 has created uneasiness amongst people and created monopolies in the economy.

In the past few years, even the freedom of speech & expression which is guaranteed to the citizens in the developed world has come under severe threat. Fearing discontent among people, there have been attempts by the Government to even control the content on the internet.   In United States, in a landmark judgment in 1969 Brandenburg v. Ohio case, the United States Supreme Court rejected Ohio Supreme Court’s judgment simply because the statute broadly prohibited the mere advocacy of violence. Rajeev and Harsh contrast this with India where Nehru destroyed freedom of speech and expression in India by introducing the First Amendment to the constitution.

The only way to preserve our political independence is to stand for economic reforms and basic civil liberties. Let us not squander away this historic opportunity and become political slaves of another power. Let us now strive for economic freedom to preserve our political freedom.

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Ghanshyam Sharma

Ghanshyam is doing PhD in Economics at Clemson University. He has earlier worked as a Consultant in the Planning Commission of India.

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