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India’s Second Freedom Struggle

By Amit Varma | Opinions – 5 hours ago

It was both ironic and poignant when, a few days ago, Anna Hazare remarked that his crusade for the Lokpal Bill was akin to a second freedom struggle for India. Hazare is fighting against the right things in the wrong way: as I wrote a few weeks ago, corruption arises from an excess of government power; creating an alternate center of power, as the Lokpal Bill attempts to do, which is neither accountable nor democratically elected, solves nothing. That said, Hazare's rhetoric, borrowed from the likes of C Rajagopalachari from decades past, was correct: India does need a second freedom struggle.

Every nation is a work in progress, but India is more so because our independence was a job half finished. In 1947, we gained freedom from the British -- but not from oppression. As the country heaved a long sigh of relief at gaining political independence, a new set of brown sahibs took over from the white ones. The great hope of this new democracy was that it would lead to a government that would serve us -- but we found ourselves with one that continued to rule us, with laws either directly retained from the British, or even more oppressive than those that existed before. We were colonized by our own people, and eventually enslaved by ways of thinking that saw a mai-baap government as the solution to all our problems -- even when it was often the source of them.

There is no Mahatma Gandhi to lead this second freedom struggle, and most Indians, complacent with how things are, would not even think it is required. But if it was to take place, what would its aims be? What would it fight to change? The goal of that first freedom struggle was to free ourselves of a colonial power; the aim of this notional second freedom struggle should be to drastically reform the system that denies us freedom in so many areas of our lives. From the classical liberal/libertarian perspective, here are a few things I'd love a second freedom struggle to strive to achieve.

One: Limit the power of government

As things stand, we are ruled by a government as oppressive as the British were. Ideally, the function of governments should be to protect our rights and provide basic services. But our government is a bloated behemoth whose tentacles, like a modern-day Cthulhu, extend into every area of our lives. This is hardly surprising: those in power are always looking for ways to extend their power, and government, if adequate safeguards are not in place, just grows and grows and grows. This is exactly what has happened in India -- our government functions like an officially sanctioned mafia, controlling our lives and curtailing our freedom. It's all a bit of a scam.

Two: Unleash Private Enterprise. Remove the License and Permit Raj

The liberalisation India carried out in 1991 was a half-hearted one, forced upon us by a balance of payments crisis and not out a genuine desire for change. The reforms halted once the crisis eased, and the License and Permit Raj largely remains in place. It has stopped us, in the past, from being the manufacturing superpower we should naturally have been, given the abundance of cheap labour in this country. It continues to act as a huge shackle on private industry: I've pointed out earlier the abominable fact that you need 165 licenses to open a hotel in India, including ""a special licence for the vegetable weighing scale in the kitchen and one for each of the bathroom scales put in guest rooms." Every businessman in India has to go through surreal hurdles to go about his work, and given that businesses exists to fulfil the needs of the people, for how else can they make profits, it is doubly criminal of an inept government to stand in the way of private enterprise. In the areas where it has been allowed to operate, look at the impact private enterprise has had: consider how many years it took to get a telephone from the state-owned MTNL in the 1980s, and how quickly you can get one today. We are a resourceful people, and every problem of India can be solved by private citizens -- if they're allowed that freedom.

Three: Reform the Indian Penal Code

The IPC is an abomination created by the British in the 19th century to make it easier for them to rule us, and to impose their Victorian morality on us. That it still exists is a disgrace. It contains ridiculous laws like Section 295 (a), which makes it a crime to "outrage religious feelings or any class" and Section 153 (a), which criminalizes any act "which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquility": both of these have been used to clamp down on free speech in the country. So has Section 124 (a), which aims to punish anyone who "brings or attempts to bring or provoke a feeling of hatred, contempt or disaffection towards government established by law," and could be applied to this column, as these laws are open to interpretation and discretion. Section 377, which effectively criminalised homosexuality, has thankfully been overthrown in a court of law, but other archaic laws remain on the books, including some that punish victimless crimes. Many of these threaten our freedom directly.

Four: Ensure Free Speech in India

The IPC alone cannot be blamed for the absence of free speech in India. Our constitution itself does not protect it, and while Article 19 (1) (a) pays lip service to it, Article 19 (2) introduces caveats to it under the guise of "public order" and "decency and morality". Practically anything one says could be a threat to public order, depending on how it is interpreted, which makes it easy for those in power to clamp down on those without. If we don't even have freedom of expression, how can we call ourselves a truly free country?

Five: Respect Taxpayer's Money

I run a series on my blog called "Where Your Taxes Go", chronicling the various absurd ways in which our tax money is spent by government. These including paying the salaries of 22,800 fake employees of the Delhi Municipality, a Rs 42 crore mansion for Mayawati on "a sprawling 1,00,000 sq foot area", a school for monkeys, the sponsorship of second honeymoons for people who delay having children, and, most recently, on a newspaper advertisement where the chief minister of Karnataka challenges his predecessor to do 'God promise' on certain allegations he made. (Yes, you can't make this stuff up.) Governments need taxes to exist, but if you strip our government down to its necessary functions, you might find that we will pay a miniscule percentage of what we actually pay now.

It's ironic that Mahatma Gandhi's famous Dandi March was held in protest against an unfair tax; most taxes today are far more draconian. Sit down sometime and calculate what percentage of your income goes into taxes: if you pay 33% -- chances are you end up paying more, if you include indirect taxation -- it means that until the end of April every year, you are effectively earning for the government. This is freedom?

Six: Treat the Right to Property as Sacred

In 1978, the 44th amendment removed the right to property from our list of fundamental rights. Even had this not happened, the poor of India are habituated to having their property snatched from them: eminent domain has long been used by corrupt governments in a crony capitalism system to line their own pockets. One of our biggest problems is that even after so many decades of independence, clear land titles do not exist in many parts of the country. (My fellow columnist, Mohit Satyanand, wrote about this a few weeks ago, as did Devangshu Datta in an old piece.) This makes it ridiculously easy for a ruling government to infringe on the rights of its poor people -- and it stands as a huge impediment to economic growth.

Seven: Reform Schooling

The state of education in this country makes for black comedy: the government pours more and more money into education, and after decades of this, the results remain dismal. There are various complex reasons for this government dysfunction, but a huge one is that the private sector is hugely constrained from entering this area. As I wrote in this old piece, even desperately poor people have shown a preference for those low-cost private schools that do manage to exist, despite governmental hurdles, than inefficient government ones. It is ironic and tragic that while private enterprise is allowed to flourish in trivial areas of our lives, like the production of shampoos and potato chips, it is constrained from competing with the government in this most crucial field. I am not recommending that the government stop spending money on education: just allow private enterprise to flourish as well. Consider the cost and quality of air travel in India when we only had Indian Airlines at our service -- and look at what it has become today. Isn't education far more crucial to our progress as a nation?

Eight: Reform Agriculture

We romanticize the farmer, and we want to keep him poor. It is shocking that 60% of our countrymen work in the agricultural sector: the equivalent figure for most developed countries is in single digits. There are various reasons for this, one of many being that farmers are not allowed to sell agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. This prevents an escape route for many farmers, and also hampers industrial growth in many parts of the country, which would automatically provide alternative avenues of employment. More industrialisation would lead to more urbanisation and greater economic growth, but we hamper this process right at the start. It is a vicious circle that traps poor farmers in poverty. As Manmohan Singh once said, "our salvation lies in getting people to move out of agriculture." He is right, which is ironic, given that he is our prime minister and is doing exactly nothing in terms of reforming that sector. Words come so easy.

I can think of many other worthy aims, such as making government more local and less centrally directed, so that it is more responsive and accountable, and reforming our legal system. I'm sure you can add to this list. But at one level, India's second freedom struggle remains a pipe dream. We are a nation colonized by the religion of government, and we display a lazy reverence for it. We look for specific quick fixes to problems, instead of recognising that many of them emanate from structural issues with our system of government -- and from how we think about it. What is worse is that we largely do not even think of ourselves as unfree -- so who needs a freedom movement then? Do we? What do you think?

link India


From India, Mumbai
Yes Mr.28677c5420521383353edc6e6. You have really made everyone to think about the present scenario of our nation. Shall we expect some symptoms of changes in near future???????
Thanks for awakening atleast some people, who are really sleeping.
Keep on banging Mr.28677c5420521383353edc6e6.

From India, Kumbakonam
Acknowledged. The problem lies with the way our Constitution has been written with outdated laws copied into it. These outdated laws were used by the Britishers to rule over us and to curb the freedom of expression and democracy. The same laws were copied into our Constitution and although we got independence, we never actually got freedom from the out-dated laws made for rulers and not for democratic governance. From the Britishers the Power got transferred to Political Positions to rule. And thats where our problem begins. Untill we re-write the constitution keeping in mind our national culture and democratic values (which everyone only pays lip service), any laws to curb corruption and bring about transparency will not take the desired affect because as per our laws there are still enough loop holes that exist since centuries.....................rgrds

From India, Mumbai
Absolutely agree with you Mr. 28677c5420521383353edc6e6. Whole Europe, Japan, Russia, US or China went through 2 major distastes called World Wars and calamity of all sorts.......

Mughals and Britishers they ruled us......but as a civilian v never raised our voice......I read the book "Freedom at midnight" and then I realized how we gained the freedom which actually wasn't a freedom...I still remember the word of Churchill when he said that still we are not ready for the freedom.

Moreover I still remember the incident that happened when Britishers came to India....when they won a battle in Calcutta(I don't know who won it or when but it was probably the 1st victory of Britishers), the British writer wrote that, they marched on the road of the city. People were watching them.....If a single person from the mob would have started throwing a stone on our troop then we would not have ruled India.....

As a citizen I think we need to be more mature. I have been to foreign countries. As a citizen they are very responsible and disciplined. After my experiences I realized why India can not be a super power except having everything. On railway stations no TC. No person at all except one inquiry counter boy. These kind of discipline we need to have......fighting corruption will automatically been done by being "COUNTRY CONSCIOUS"......

From India, Ahmadabad
Hi Readers

I agree with majority of points mentioned that our country requires at urgent level. However with reference to the Clause Eight: Reform Agriculture :, you have mentioned that,

Farmer shall be allowed to sell their land to non agricultural purposes

Shifting India from Agro based to manufacturing focus

I may not be an expert in Indian Economy, but from the layman point of view. I feel heavily relying on manufacturing sector may do economical good to the country but it will spoil the health and quality of life and eco system.

We are seeing nowdays, how lush green fields are turned into ugly concrete jungles of software development, automobile manufacturing etc. Adding more chaos to our congested lives.

On other hand, India can empower its farmers by setting up facility centres, agricultural research centres, and other economic support to increase crop production, or agricultural output benefitting them directly. Educating Farmers with modern technology, raising their standard of living and giving them due respect to their labor in growing the basic basic necessities of life.

Creating more and more of IT parks, Industrial Factories, emitting pollution of all kinds in the society and ecosystem, by pollution I mean air, water and land. Also creating or increasing the gaps between the rich and poor classes. Today it is stereotyped that farmers are the poor of the country.

Half hearted measure of Industrializing the economy will back fire resulting in terrible pollutions levels, unbalanced distribution of wealth and resources.

We are having narrow roads, but want bigger cars, our country men are dying of hunger and starvation and we still want to replace arable lands with ugly smoke spitting factories, which does good to few rich class people, further widening the gap between rich and poor, all in the name of Economic Development !!

Can agriculture be developed on large scale ?? with all modern technology, right allocation of resources, and effective empowerment of farmers.

We are diverting our precious resources such as land, water, air into sectors which may or may not help all classes of people. But concentrating or expanding agriculture would help all.

India can setup world class food processing centres, renewed farming technologies etc. 60 % of our country is into agriculture, yet do we have a food processing or distribution giant at international level ?? something to the likes of Unilever, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble. Indian agriculture has been very popular in international markets for its cereals, spices etc.

When I was living In India, I witnessed chunks and chunks of green fields demolished for ugly factories, I wondered what good it will do to our country. Are we going to eat silicon chips, drink softwares, breathe chimney smoke.

There are lot of other issue which are disturbing in Indian Economy.

Sharing my thoughts !!

From Kuwait, Salmiya
Dear Mr. Hussain Zulfikar
I too agree with your thoughts, but for getting the development we will have to sacrifice the land which is having less fertility and less water resources, which will have some meaning for conversion into industrialisation of land. But high fertile lands with adequate water resources, should not be converted into industrial lands.
As explained by you, collective cultivation will give good results, by which our human resources can be saved and can be diverted into other sectors, if properly planned.
Will our rulers think on that way? Will it work in our country?
Let us wait and see, but it is time for us to join hands together to fight against the corrupted leaders, so that we can think of doing something towards the development of our Mother Nation.
Jai Hind

From India, Kumbakonam
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