Published by the Swatantra Party in 1970, the musing below was originally the transcript of a press conference addressed by Mr M. R. Masani, M.P., President, Swatantra Party, in New Delhi on 31 December 1969. The speech laid emphasis on matters that needed to be given immediate priority. First, a clean, efficient and prompt administration; second, the restoration of law and order; third, increased production and hard work; and lastly, a pragmatic approach to national problems, free from ideological emphasis or pre-conceptions. Masani argued how the Indira Gandhi government failed to address any of the aforementioned matters of priority.
You can read the complete, unabridged version here National-Priorities-for-1970
I: Introductory Remarks
First of all, let me wish you all, what is coming in a few hours time, a happy and satisfactory New Year, and we all hope it will be a good one for our country, also.
I thought I should share a few thoughts with you at this juncture. The first thought that comes to me is that, in the euphoria of the rival Congress session in Bombay, the question of whether the ruling party has the mandate to give effect to its economic programmes appears to have been overlooked. Nobody seems to have mentioned it. As far as I can make out, the original mandate that Mrs Gandhi had got from the people in 1967 has expired as a result of the breaking up of the Party and her losing her majority. For the proposals made in Bombay and elsewhere, she has no mandate at all to legislate or carry out those policies, and democratic practice requires that she should go to the people for a fresh mandate.
I would, therefore, like to suggest that, if she knows her constitutional duty, she will dissolve Parliament and go to the people and get a mandate. If she does not, then it is obvious that she recognises that she does not enjoy the confidence of the people and is not prepared to face them. I would be inclined to agree with her on that! My own feeling is that if she goes to the polls, she will be decisively defeated at the present juncture.
I think her so-called popularity is grossly exaggerated. I, for one, do not think it extends beyond the bigger cities and urban areas. Even there, my own impression is that her main support comes from two classes in the cities–one is that class of businessmen which wants to make a quick rupee through permit-license-raj, and the other class is what the Marxists would call the lumpen (rag) proletariat, the rootless sections in the cities who have been well-known to support the Fascist parties in Germany, Italy and other parts of the world. I think these are the two classes from whom real support comes to her.
I believe the need for a change of government is more than ever acute because the security and stability of the country require a change. What can be more dangerous to the stability and security of the country requires a change. What can be more dangerous to the stability and security of the country than a minority government, particularly when it depends for its survival on Communist support? I think this poses a threat to the security and stability of the country. Nor is this government, in my view, capable of dealing with any of the major needs of the country.
I would like to suggest for your consideration that there are four things which almost every one of us would accept the country’s needs call for, namely, first, a clean, efficient and prompt administration which is at present utterly lacking; the second is the restoration of law and order, particularly in Bengal, but also in the bulk of the country where there has been an abdication of the obligation to provide law and order; the third is hard work and increased production; and the fourth is a pragmatic approach to our problems, free from ideological emphasis or preconceptions. As far as I can make out, this government is incapable of providing any one of these four needs.
In so far as the economic programmes that have emerged from the Bombay session are concerned, they give no answer to two of the prime needs of the country, one of which is a stable price level or, if you like, a stable rupee and the other is more jobs, more employment to cope with the growing unemployment. So far as a stable rupee is concerned, there seems to be galloping inflation in the last few weeks. The official figures for the week ending 12th December 1969 show that there has been an increase in the circulation of currency notes; money in the hands of the public has increased by Rs 50.53 crores during that one week. If you take two weeks, that is, the fortnight before 12th December, the figure is Rs. 125 crores; that is to say, more and more currency notes are pumped into the system. This inevitably means increasing Inflationary tendencies, a rising price level, and consequent suffering for the people.
As for jobs, we all recognise that without more production, there cannot be more jobs. The policies that have been suggested in Bombay give no hope of increased production. Indeed, all the policies suggested are going to retard production in various fields. It was interesting to find in one of the dailies of yesterday a Finance Ministry estimate of the effects of the nationalisation of industries, all of which show no increased production or output but a loss, which is not at all surprising. What can be expected from a party whose President makes the remark, which Mr Jagjivan Ram did in Bombay, that distribution is more important than production? Distribution of what? Of something that does not exist? Can one distribute what one has not produced? It is interesting that Mr Jawaharlal Nehru, while speaking in Kathmandu in the middle fifties, gave the answer to Mr Jagjivan Ram when he said, “Socialism in a poor country means only the distribution of poverty.”
Finally, there is talk of abolishing teh fundamental right to property. There can be no other fundamental right without man’s right to property. If a man does not control his environment, he cannot exercise any other fundamental liberty. In other words, a pauper is not likely to enjoy the rights of a free press, freedom of expression, freedom of association or freedom of movement. It is only through control over one’s physical environment that, to some extent, one is able to operate as a free man, as Karl Marx said. That is why he wanted the proletariat to revolt. But, while saying so, he made a big mistake in coming to the wrong conclusion. Instead of saying that everyone must therefore have property so that everyone may be free, he came to the conclusion that everyone must be deprived of property! The Marxist Congress Party, led by the Prime Minister, wanted to follow that policy at a time when Marxism itself had become out of date.
Here I would like to refer to what Justice Hegde said a few days ago in Bangalore when he answered the suggestion that the present Constitution comes in the way of progressive social and economic legislation. He said it was not so. I quote from The Hindu of 28th December 1969-
“To Mr Hegde’s mind the criticism made by some that the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution were incompatible with the social goals envisaged in the Constitution and that they should therefore be scrapped did not appear to be well-founded. Theirs was a Constitution which provided for securing the interests of the society as well as of individuals composing it. Experience had shown that legisltaures and governments were likely under stress of circumstances to ignore basic human rights. Therefore it was necessary to safeguard the individual against the State. The best Constitution was that which harmonised individual rights with his social duties.”
I think this is a wise statement, coming from the quarter it does.
The motive for this attack on the property as a right can only be the intention to take the farms away from the peasants. Of all forms of property, this is the least vulnerable, and undoubtedly, you cannot take away a man’s four acres or eight acres under the present Constitution because the Courts will not allow it. It appears to me that the new attack on the right to property can only be aimed at the system of peasant proprietorship which exists in India. You will remember that a similar attack was started by Mr Jawaharlal Nehru after the Nagpur Resolution in 1959. That, in fact, was the provocation for the coming into existence of my Party. That attack was beaten back. It seems to me that this attack is going to be revived by another misguided attempt to co-operativise or collectivise the farms. This is the first short of the coming attack on peasant farms, however small they may be. If that is so, we shall certainly lead the fight against any such attempt, as we led the fight against any such attempt, as we led the fight against any such attempt, as we led the fight against the Constitution (Seventeenth Amendment) Bill in 1963. We would like to appeal to the rural population throughout the country to beware of this danger and to rise against it and wage war in defence of the basic way of life in the countryside–of a small farmer cultivating his own land.
All this inevitably leads to the need for an alternative government. That alternative government is not so far visible. I, for one, do not claim that my Party can single-handedly do this job. It will be wise for all other parties to recognise that in the present political situation, no single party can do the job of replacing the present government. I am very glad, therefore, that a strong opponent of coalitions like Mr Morarji Desai has now veered around to the view that coalitions are now inevitable. As you know, I have been talking about the era of coalitions for the last few years. I am glad that it is now becoming an accepted fact, a reality. There is no democratic country in the world where one party is always in the majority. So, often, a coalition government is a normal democratic way of life. In West Germany, Italy, Israel, Scandinavian countries, and in so many parts of the world, there have been permanent coalitions since the Second World War and yet no instability. Therefore, we need not worry.
My Party stands for a combination, the coming together of all patriotic and democratic elements in the country, cutting across present party alignments, leaving out the Communists alone. The issue is not one of “left” or “right”. There are meaningless terms. After all, all parties accept a mixed economy, which Mrs Gandhi commended recently in Bombay. The difference is only on the question of emphasis, how much of each element is in a mixed economy, and what should be the emphasis from time to time. This is something which is negotiable between Liberal democrats like myself and Social democrats. There is no barrier. It is a matter of argument, negotiation, give and take. These economic differences, in my view, are negotiable. What is not negotiable is the security of the country, its independence, and its democratic way of life under the Constitution. So, we want all patriotic and democratic elements to come together.
I, therefore, welcome Acharya Kripalani’s very sane advice, given at Ahmedabad, that opposition parties like the Opposition Congress, the Jan Sangh, and the Socialist parties should stop competing with the Prime Minister in her demagogy. The opposition would do better for itself if it were to give up competing with the ruling party in socialist slogan-mongering and engage itself in building a broad-based, patriotic, democratic front so that it could provide a clean government. We have been saying always that we would like to bring together people on a minimum programme of the basic needs of the country. I have listed them as good and efficient government, the restoration of law and order, hard work and more production, and a pragmatic approach to our economic problems. We think that if the parties in opposition which belief in democracy agree on these four points or something of this nature, it should be possible, even immediately, to provide the country with an alternative government.
Before I end, may I take a few minutes to refer to my own Party, which has elected me as President for the next two years? We are a party of change. We came into existence in 1959 to change the pattern of socialism which has been imposed on the country during the last twenty years. We, therefore, stand for drastic change and the liberation of the people from the shackles of control, red tape and Statism. We agree with Dr Ludwig Erhard, the maker of the German miracle, when he said, “Let the men and the money loose; and they will make the country strong.” This is the policy of liberalisation which Mr Dubcek, for instance, was trying in Czechoslovakia when it was run over by the Soviet Red Army.
Our basic creed is free competition, a free market economy, plus Gandhiji’s theory of Trusteeship. We believe in the Gandhian path to social justice, as opposed to that of Karl Marx.
We stand for modernism. We want to modernise this country so that it can come up to the level of the more advanced countries of the world. Take Japan, for instance. It is emerging as Super Power No 2 in the industrial world, next only to the United States. We do not see why we should not follow that path.
We have nothing in common with obscurantism. For instance, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee of the Jan Sangh is quoted in the Indian Express this morning as saying that there are three classes of people who need to be brought back to the “path of rectitude” and “Indianised”. One of them is the Muslims, the second is the Communists and the third, I am rather interested to hear, are people who like the Western way of life. By this, I presume he means the modern way of life. If that is so, I am afraid he is up against quite a number of people because, as I understand it, there are lakhs and lakhs of young men and women in this country who want nothing more than to modernise this country. If anyone wants to turn back that tide, wants to turn India back from the march towards modernism, he will find it a very difficult task indeed. We have nothing in common with the state of mind which wants to turn its back on modernism. We are essentially a Party which believes in progress–modern techniques, modern management, modern administration, and thus catching up with the rest of the world.
The National Executive and the office-bearers elected in Madras on the 27th and 28th, I find, are a new team with a lot of young blood; particularly the five Joint Secretaries that the party has elevated to help us, each of them is a new man to the national leadership and a young man. I know that they are all dynamic young men. The key-note to the leadership of the Swatantra Party will be dynamism and discipline. We believe that Indian politics are now entering a period of a war of movement, a turbulent period, when a Maginot Line mentality of staying put and defending one’s position will not do. We will have to show a lot of initiative and drive. So, the first keynote will be dynamism. The second will be disciplined. You are aware of the fact that I have been arguing within my Party for having disciplined and ethical methods of work. Since the Party has placed me at the helm of affairs, I assume it has accepted the plea that I had made. If that is so, then I expect the new Executive to provide full support in putting an end to the kind of indiscipline which, unfortunately, we have been witnessing for the last year or two.
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