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Address at the IPI Seminar

Sharad Joshi, 9 January 2004

Thank You.

I am delighted that some of you have come here. It’s a sort of dress rehearsal for bigger thing to come. Thanks to the energetic persistence of Sanjeev Sabhlok by the media of internet, a bunch of liberal minded citizens got together this week for four days, to examine how we could clean our politics and how we could strengthen the liberal forces in the country. Most of us were driven to come by our own sense of disappointment with the way things were, by the chronic misgovernance of the country. By this huge gap between the dynamic private space in the country an arid public space.

We came this week with varying expectations. Most of us had pretty modest expectations. Some of us had just come to debate, others wanted to start a new party, liberal party. Others said no - lets just strengthen the civil society movements which were already present in the society and who were doing a good job and maybe we could create -- and the word we used was a “Shamiana” -- under which these different civil society volunteer movements could come together – kind of a magnet for them.

We were a motley bunch of people. Some were mobilizers with a distinguished track record, like Jayaprakash Narayan of Lok Satta. Not the old Jai Prakash Narain but the new but equally distinguished Jayaprakash Narayan, who is running a wonderful movement for improving governance, based in Andhra Pradesh. Then there was Ramesh Ramanathan and Swati – they also came, they were from Bangalore and they run a citizen Movement in Bangalore. We had Nitai Mehta who is - we are fortunate to have him here with us today -- he runs the Praja Movement in Bombay.

We had activists with us like Madhu Kishwar. We had thinkers, economists, very distinguished and profound persons like Ashok Desai and Bibek Deb Roy. We had very unusual political leaders like Sharad Joshi and Vaman Rao from Maharashtra, persons of great integrity in politics whom we admire enormously. We had leaders of liberal institutions like Parth Shah, Centre for Civil Society, and Barun Mitra of the Liberty Institute, we had Subodh Kumar, who has another another very distinguished institute that he heads here. We have of course the Secretary of the old Swatantra Party, the lovable Mr. Raju, who has just spoken to you and then we also have very deeply committed liberals who felt strongly about what was going on, somebody like Rakesh Wadhwa.

Now in this group, with varying expectations: we came together and we looked at the country and we all felt that the timing was right, that India was a different India during the time of the Swatantra Party. We have come a long way and the biggest thing that’s changed in India is really the mindset of the young people of the country. I think that those minds have become de-colonised and from a Socialist India we have become a much more “free enterprise” India. Now this is a process that’s going on but our biggest allies are young people, and fortunately it is the young who are in the majority.

We also made a note of the fact, that actually people had experienced in the last decade, a degree of freedom -- thanks to the economic reforms, thanks to the cable channels. And this experience of freedom could itself be the foundation for a very major change, and accelerating change in the future.

Many of the people were very reluctant to engage in politics and this of course is our old middle class prejudice against politics. Middle class people don’t even go to vote and I think by the end of the workshop we had converted most of the reluctant people to at least believe that we have to discharge our duties as citizens of a vibrant democracy. Whatever else we may say about this democracy -- this democracy throws up all kinds of clowns who go into the Parliament -- but it is a vibrant democracy and I think that no Indian will trade it for even 2 percentage points higher rate of higher growth.

So now, to fulfill our duties in this democracy we felt that we had to engage and it was not right to just sit on the fence. And frankly for two days a lot of us were sitting on that fence. But I am happy to say that by the end of the second day and in the morning of the third day the mood of the group had changed. But it had changed for a very good reasons. It had changed because we had in our midst people of politics, and people who were different from the politicians that we know and see everyday.

All of us felt very deeply, and we feel very deeply committed, to what all the three speakers - but Mr. Raju most eloquently, had described as values based politics, and it was inspiring to hear him speak about Rajaji and Masani and these people who even then stood out in our political spectrum.

So, as I said some of us thought that maybe we ought to start a new party. But then I think very quickly the practical realization, and a sensible realization, dawned on us that there already was an institution. There was an institution that was started by Rajaji which was the Swatantra Party, it was succeeded by the Swatantra Bharat Party, and Swatantra Bharat Party led by a person of huge integrity Mr. Sharad Joshi, who actually was such an inspiration for all of us through this workshop that we felt in a sense raised by the level of values and just, basic, decency. The way he spoke to us, the frankness, the smallness of his ego, these are wonderful human qualities, and ultimately whether one wins or looses, these are the things that finally matter, and that’s what we wanted to bring into our public life.

So we made the sensible decision that why reinvent the wheel -- why not strengthen something that already existed.

Now I won’t talk much today about his Party, about “our Party”, as I say. He will tell us a lot more of how he got going, and how he has built this movement and Party. I must just add a small note, a personal note, that I was privileged to meet Rajaji through Piloo Modi, who ran a small Study Group in Bombay when I was a young Executive living in Bombay, in the mid sixties, and I was taken to meet Minoo Masani, and then Minoo took me to meet Rajaji. And of course we were all socialists then. And I was a Socialist, and Minoo sort of introduced me as a young Socialist to Rajaji and he had a laugh and he smiled and basically that smile seemed to say, “You know, young man, you’ll also learn”.

But the fact is that the timing of the Swatantra Party was not ideal. The young people today whose minds have become free, all those young people were Socialists, and it is the young people who will make the tone of the society. My personal conversion to markets, to free enterprise, really began around that time, where I became the victim of the license Permit Raj as an Executive in the corporate world. I saw everyday how the system worked and eventually in the middle of the nineties I took early retirement from my company and I went around the country where I uncovered this new mood that I spoke to you about and I wrote the book “India Unbound”.

We felt towards the end of our workshop that we could add some value to this endeavor and we could help revive the spirit of the Swatantrata. We are very clear for what we stand. We stand for our freedom, we stand for a secular country, we stand for free enterprise, individual enterprise. We stand for a non-interfering state. We believe that a Government is necessary, you can’t do without Government, but it should be a focused, targeted, efficient Government. And finally we believe in values in politics.

So that’s pretty simple and clear and I think that in the end what we are dedicated to is rebuilding our Institutions. Dismantling the Institutions of Socialism and rebuilding new vibrant honest Institutions in their place. This is really what is another name for reforms.

So I think I speak for most of us in our workshop that we feel we are at a historic moment, we feel a sense, we feel being privileged, to be here this moment, and we also know from what Mr. Raju told us that this is something that can be done. After all Swatanra Party also started when a bunch of people came together and then they had and “lo and behold!” 44 people in Parliament and they were the main opposition in the mid-60s.

We know that this is going to be a long-term path. This is a long affair, and if it is going to be a long affair, this is just a seed and the revival of the spirit of the Swatantra Party, of the Swatantra Bharat Party, and you’ll hear very eloquently after me from Mr. Joshi, but what it really says is that in this long journey every single person can make a difference.

Very few people today have got started. This is not a convention of any kind, this is just a bunch of friends who have got together, to kind of bring to a close, this fine workshop that Sanjeev brought us together. Thank You.