Swarajya (“self-rule”) – the magazine started in 1956 and championed by Rajaji, the statesman, independence activist, politician, the last Governor-General of India, and who Mahatma Gandhi referred to as “keeper of my conscience” – was legally reincarnated, interestingly enough, on January 30th 2015, the 67th death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Writing in one of the early issues of Swarajya, Rajaji wrote “There is before the country the great problem of how to secure welfare without surrendering the individual to be swallowed up by the State, how to get the best return for the taxes the people pay and how to preserve spiritual values while working for better material standards of life.” The magazine shut down in 1980 a few years after Rajaji’s death. In fact, RK Laxman’s earliest cartoons were published in Swarajya!
Swarajya’s re-birth in 2015 took 13months of perseverance, patience, labour and a healthy appreciation of irony. It involved explaining, informing and persuading various officials from different departments of the Indian bureaucracy by means of representations, declarations and affidavits. The police, the printer, the district magistrate, the revenue administrative officer, the revenue inspector and the Registrar of Newspapers for India were all involved in this process. Not much has changed since Arun Shourie wrote, in his 2004 book, “Governance” about how it took 12 months, 5 departments in 3 Ministries incl the Defence Ministry, to decide whether any ink, apart from blue and black, could be used by government officers!
Socialist and populist discourse over 67 years since India’s independence has created a mind-numbing bureaucracy (that consumes over 12% of government revenue receipts), a poor country (with 20% of the world’s poor and ranked 135th on the HDI), venal identity based politics, and a polity with crumbling institutions, truncated individual liberties (where an “annoying” email can attract a jail term), a dispensation that mistrusts business and fosters cultural disconnectedness. Some numbers: India ranks 142nd out of 189 countries in the “Ease of Doing Business”, it takes 7 years to close a business and 1420 days to enforce a contract! Entrepreneurs find it easier and more beneficial to set up companies outside India even for doing business in India!
India is now at the centre of five reinforcing forces: (a) a huge, growing, impatient aspirational class, (b) enormous cross-sectoral market opportunities, (c) immense demographic advantages and entrepreneurial energy (d) single party majority government and favourable geo-politics (e) and a national mood that is in favour of change, a break from the past. Unshackling India from the entrenched social, cultural and economic policies, mindsets and practices of the past is therefore as much a critical compulsion as a desire to take advantage of this opportune moment.
With an experienced editorial team in place and with the support of its EAB consisting of respected economists, entrepreneurs, and commentators, this reincarnated Swarajya – a 58 year old startup really, – seeks to be the big-tent for a new liberal, centre-right driven discourse via a monthly print magazine, a digital avatar and events. This includes promoting a scientific temper in a rational and balanced manner while being aware of, and uninhibitedly, acknowledging India’s seminal contribution to say, mathematics; believing that India’s adaptive and absorbent multi-cultural civilization has lessons for the world – living with incredible diversity, for example; that it is critical to keep religion and politics separate, and socio-economic policies must promote equality of opportunity, not aim to guarantee, at best, mediocre outcomes.
The opportunities are vast, the challenges are vast. But for those committed to seeing a new India emerge on the world stage, the timing couldn’t be better. Strangely enough, India has a role model in China that has moved dramatically since Mao’s death in 1976 to President’s Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream apparently inspired by the American Dream. From 1981-2010, China lifted 680million out of poverty and has shown what’s possible with policies that’re aspirational, ambitious, pragmatic, that tap into the entrepreneurial energy of its people and have a sense of purpose.
The question for India therefore, is whether an “Indian Dream” can be similarly crafted? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” and personal liberties and freedom for enterprises should be non-negotiable. There’s new purposeful rhetoric and a palpable sense that’s there’s something different afoot India in 2015. The objectives of an “Indian Dream”, as envisaged by Swarajya, naturally and strongly resonate with America’s own especially given their commitment to personal liberties and free enterprise. The engagement between India and the US in recent times is parenthesized by these new emergent beliefs, a clear break from the past.
India’s brains that emigrated overseas, mostly to the US, are now either returning, engaging with or staying back in India in larger numbers to be part of this long journey towards realising an Indian Dream. “Make in India” and “Make for India” are critical elements of this journey of social, political, cultural and economic change. Engaging with India by the Indian Diaspora, one of India’s great assets, and vice-versa is therefore an important path for both to traverse.
Interestingly, the connection between the US and Indian entrepreneurs has a hallowed legacy. The American national anthem “Star Spangled Banner” was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 when he was aboard aboard a British ship, HMS Minden, in Chesapeake Bay in 1812 during the Battle for Fort McHenry. Interestingly, the all teakwood HMS Minden was built and launched in 1810 in Bombay by Jamshedji Bomanji Wadia an Indian entrepreneur-businessman for the British Navy!
It is a great time for all those invested in the idea of a new India to be part of the discourse to shape a new India, based on personal liberties and less government. It is time for all to say, as the freedom fighter Tilak did, “Swarajya is my birthright and I shall have it”!