As a classical liberal, it has always puzzled me whenever somebody calls me “right wing” or “neo liberal” for my pro-capitalist views. And it also baffles me whenever somebody thinks I’m a libertarian. So the first question follows.
Who Is a Liberal?
Liberal comes from the Latin word Liber meaning “Free Man”. In the modern political sense, a liberal is someone who supports socialism and big government. But is this what true liberals do? I say no. Because a true liberal is someone who not only supports social freedom (religion, race, etc) but also economic freedom. Some examples of classical liberals are: Adam Smith, Thomas Macaulay, John Locke, and John-Baptiste Say, to name a few.
Where Does the Liberal Stand?
The true liberal stands neither right nor left, but at the center. When the USA gained independence in 1776, many people thought their rights came from the government. But Thomas Jefferson who followed British Philosopher John Locke believed it was the other way around. He believed that people had rights apart from the government. And he also believed the people had the power to form and dissolve governments. Furthermore, the sole purpose of the government is to protect citizens and their property rights.
Brief History of Liberalism
Liberalism rose worldwide during the 19th century. Yes, it was this classical liberal wave that brought about unprecedented economic growth and rise in standards of living. Additionally, wars between nations reduced. This was how nations like USA, Britain, France and Prussia (modern Germany) started getting richer. And no, it was not because of plundering India as Shashi Tharoor wrote in his recent book. I will address Shashi Tharoor’s book “An Era of Darkness” separately, with evidence, sometime later. But to say it short, what he says about Britain needing to pay reparations to India is absurd, to say the least. Does he even know how much Britain has given India and Pakistan in terms of aid every year? Why is he still holding out the beggar’s bowl? To prove Indians are perpetual beggars?
Back to the story. The 19th century was the era of classical liberalism. And the 20th century was the era when world leaders went against this ideology. It was the 20th century when the ideologies of collectivism, viz. communism, Nazism, fascism, etc, rose in the world. This era also gave rise to the ideology of John Maynard Keynes, the classic socialist economist.
The 21st century is headed by both confused liberals and opportunist right wingers. Because liberals force everyone to collectivize (socialism), and right wingers force everyone to perform well on their own (social justice). In short, the 21st century is an era of total confusion.
Individualism Versus Collectivism
Ultimately, it’s all about individualism or collectivism. Individualism and freedom are what both capitalism and liberalism stand for. And this is why capitalism is not left wing and certainly not right wing, but a centrist and liberal construct. Left wingers force us to submit to the government itself, while right wingers force us to submit to government restrictions. Of course, in India, under both Dr. Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi, corporate loans have been written off. So does it really matter that MMS was left leaning and Modi is right leaning, when they essentially do the same thing? In their place, a classical liberal would hold defaulters liable and freeze their assets. Same with farmers, but the liberal would give them a longer rope in the case of India, where farming has been screwed 360° by nearly all parties. Farming in India is a separate and a very sad case which I will discuss later….
Is the Indian National Congress a Liberal Party?
I’m afraid no. Of course, the INC did have classical liberals during their early years, such as Dr. BR Ambedkar and C Rajagopalachari aka Rajaji. But post 1947, under Nehru, Congress were mostly a left wing party economically and a right wing party socially. As someone from Tamil Nadu, I recollect how Congress in Tamil Nadu before liberalization was essentially a right wing party. Yes, you could be a Muslim and get patronage from fellow Congressmen, you could be a Christian and get their support. But if you were a Dalit, no Congressman would ever come near you. For Dalits and other SC/ST/OBC castes, their only solace was the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) – a party founded by a Forward Caste Mudaliar CN Annadurai aka Arignar Anna. Of course, DMK was/is a left wing party, although they’re very business friendly. And since 1974, Dalits/OBCs also had the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) founded by Dr. MG Ramachandran aka MGR.
Of course, post liberalization, INC has taken a more socially leftist approach. With the exception of PV Narasimha Rao, Dr. MMS, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and P. Chidambaram, and that too only to a small extent, nobody can be classified as an economic liberal. INC still follows repressive socialism. But BJP has made it worse, and has actually implemented far left economic policies in many cases (more here). In short, BJP is a right wing communist party.
As of today, no party in India is remotely close to economic, political nor social freedom. At present, it’s basically ego clashes all the way.
It’s time for us classical liberals to awaken from the ashes. We need to rise worldwide and snatch the idea of economic freedom back from the right wing and social justice back from the left wing. In India, we don’t have the problem of snatching from anybody. We just need to take up the ideas of Periyar, Arignar Anna, Ambedkar and Rajaji on self-respect, social justice and economic freedom, and challenge the status quo.