Published March 7-11, 2021
Free to Lose
Imagine you are captaining a cricket team. You are playing against a team which can make and change the rules at any time. They also have the umpire on their side. When you go out to bat, you do not know where the boundary is. You can be declared out caught by the umpire even if you did not play a shot. When you bowl, the umpire can declare a no-ball at any time. You can be forced to reduce the number of fielders at any time. The other team’s captain can demand that your team has to play without your cricketing gear (helmet, arm and leg guards, gloves, shoes) and you have no choice but to agree. Even in the extreme scenario that you win, the other team’s captain can demand that the scores (and the news stories) be modified to show that you lost.
This is the game we the people are playing daily. The other side consists of politicians and bureaucrats, supported by the umpires (regulators), match referees (judges) and scorers (media) – they are all part of the same team. Every game is rigged. We are there only to entertain the other side. Day after day, we are beaten and bruised in unequal matches. The other side promises reform of the rules but doesn’t do anything. It’s a one-sided game; it always has been. It does not matter which sport we play; they are the only ones who win. We are free to lose.
The India we live in has us (farmers, workers, entrepreneurs) playing this sort of game against them (politicians, bureaucrats and their friends). Taxes eat away our earnings – and yes, we all pay taxes. Our taxes feed their luxurious lifestyle, big homes and stashed funds. They control most of the banks and many businesses, adding to what they can take from us. They do give us a little back from the money they take from us. Some of us are given free gas cylinders, free food and slogans to recite. So, we even cheer for them. Of course, they can arrest and jail some of us any time should they wish – the police, investigating agencies and courts are filled with their people. They set the rules, we just play to entertain them.
This is not the India that was imagined in 1947 when India became free from the British. Little did we know then that our own would use the same pre-1947 rules to run post-1947 India. We wanted a revolution, we got a replacement. We wanted a future, we got frauds. We wanted a change in the political and economic order, we got only a change in the skin colour of our rulers. We wanted prosperity, we got perpetually planned poverty. We wanted liberty, we got licence raj. We wanted equality in the eye of the law, we got discrimination in the name of caste and religion. We wanted to unite, we got division. We wanted leaders like Washington and Lincoln, we got Aurangzeb and Dyer.
A few thousand Britishers controlled the destiny of our forebears. Will we let a few thousand politicians and bureaucrats control the destiny of our children? They limited our rise for generation after generation. Will we let them stop our children from advancing? Our parents and we suffered in silence. Will we let them suffocate our children’s future too? We sacrificed our dreams at their altar. Will we let our children’s dreams meet the same fate? When will we open our eyes, ears, minds and mouths so that we can open tomorrow’s world for our children?
There is no politician in India today or tomorrow who is on our side. They are all the same. We need to stop being pawns in their rigged game of politics and power and start winning the game of life and liberty. It is time to stop being an ostrich; we need to bark and roar. We have the ability to create an alternate India – an India which is free and rich. They may have the monopoly on guns, but we have the numbers with our votes. If we can unite and vote as one, we can win our country back. We can transform India. Not in another generation, but in the next election.
The Game of Politics
For the politicians and bureaucrats in India, there is only one thing that matters – power. They will do whatever it takes to stay in power. The political parties are machines to maximise power and wealth for their leaders. The bureaucrats are vehicles for the politicians to exercise their power. India’s bureaucrats long ago stopped the steel frame of India; they have rusted and rotted from the inside and are only there to serve their political masters in return for some petty gains. Gone is their desire to build a nation; all they now do is work as the extraction and exploitation agents for the leaders in power.
Let’s understand the game of politics and how it gets played. Each political leader has sharpened the game building on the learnings from their predecessors. The only objective is power – win every seat, win every election. Only if one is in power can one rule. The conclusion politicians reached very early in India after the British departed is that voters are not concerned about the economy. So, while a few of us may care about economic growth, the smart politicians know that the state of the economy is irrelevant to how the people vote. The few who care about the economy won’t even fill a single polling booth in India.
For the politician therefore, it is all about politics. That means power; ideally, absolute power. The game is about acquiring it and then retaining it for as long as possible. That means winning elections again and again. What does it take to win an election? In a first-past-the-post election, it means having a candidate on the political party’s symbol who gets one more vote than the runner-up. With anti-defection laws and party whips, winning candidates are reduced to mere rubber stamps – at the beck, call and mercy of the party leaders. Voters vote for party symbols; even the party name doesn’t show up on the EVM. Even supporters of the party have no say in the selection of the candidate – only the high(est) command does. It is a two-way patronage system – please the leader at the top and get the ticket to contest. Voters are irrelevant except for their votes at election time.
Look at what’s been happening in recent years in India. Leaders who swore to the ideology of a specific party (and against another) suddenly quit and flip their beliefs. It is not a change of heart that drives them, but a change of bank balance. They are driven by fear or favour – fear of the investigative agencies or favour from those who can bestow it. Every party looks the same – filled with defectors who were on the other side until only very recently. When the lust for power encounters political leaders hungry for absolute domination, a deal is only a matter of time and negotiation.
MLAs, MPs and even ministers resign and flip – like pieces in the board game of Othello Black one move, turned to white in the next move. Money or a threat does the trick. Politicians with a clean track record have long become extinct. The ones who make it to the top are the ones who can play the game. In all this, voters aren’t even in the decision frame. The highest bidder wins, and it is typically the party in power.
And so it is that the party leadership at the HQ exercises absolute control. The real elections game happens before and after the voting. Scandals, suicides and sensational headlines are used to distract daily and keep us entertained so the real issues never get discussed. After all, public memory is short and their attention has now become even more micro – reduced to forwarding WhatsApp messages and discussing the trivial. When were Indian elections ever about matters of substance? There are only speeches, not debates. They are only nominations, not primaries. An unlimited supply of money combined with media dominance and MLA-MP acquisition machine (before or after an election) is the source for power. Voters are just incidental to the real game of politics like pawns in a game of chess, like spectators watching a rigged race, like prisoners electing their masters in a jail. Everything in politics is just a transaction – what does one give, what does one get. This is the India we live in but are unable to see.
The Real Enemies
India’s real enemies have never been across our borders but in the highest positions of power within the country. India’s real enemies are our politicians (across all parties) and bureaucrats. They are visible everywhere and yet we refuse to see them.
It is not Pakistan and China that have caused our per capita GDP to languish at $2000 a year while the world average has risen to $12,000. It is not Pakistan and China who imposed the license-permit-quota-raj in the 60s and 70s. It is not Pakistan and China who impose high taxes on us. It is not Pakistan and China who squander our wealth in public sector undertakings. It is not Pakistan or China who have kept farmers trapped since 1950 by controlling their input and output prices. It is not Pakistan or China who have denied poor farmers jobs in manufacturing – because manufacturing at scale does not exist! It is not Pakistan or China who have controlled India’s education system and denied learning opportunities to children, generation after generation. It is not Pakistan and China who did demonetisation. It is not Pakistan or China who harshly locked India down during the pandemic and hurt the very people that needed to be uplifted. It is not Pakistan or China that still allow the use of British-era sedition laws.
Every decision that has impoverished India can be traced to the politician-bureaucrat combine. And yet, even now we worship them. We rejoice at the mere utterance of the word ‘privatisation’ of a (single) handful of entities and forget to ask why the government should even be in business via hundreds of entities across the country. We fail to see the imposition of tariffs for what it really is – mercantilism at its worst and a replay of failed import substitution policies of the past. We fail to see the innumerable barriers imposed on private voluntary exchanges and rejoice when an itsy-bitsy ‘reform’ is announced. We fail to see how a few cronies have always run India in cahoots with the politician-bureaucrat. We ask for facts and are given falsehoods. We speak in hushed private tones on WhatsApp Signal but are not willing to speak up about their misdeeds publicly – for fear of reprisals to our family and business. And yet we readily proclaim Pakistan and China as our enemies.
We turn a blind eye to the fact that almost every Indian channel and media entity has become a clone of Doordarshan and the Press Information Bureau. Pakistan and China have not done that; our own citizens have succumbed to the pressures from the politician-bureaucrat nexus. We turn a blind eye to the subjugation and capture of every independent institution – because it had also been done by other parties in the past, so now it is okay for the other side to do it. (For some of us, it is our side.) In fact, Indian democracy never got a chance to live. It was grievously injured by the colonial Constitution and then killed quickly with the First Amendment. We didn’t even notice.
Pakistan and China did not put obstacles on our path to freedom and prosperity; our politicians and bureaucrats did. Unless we open our eyes and understand this, we will not change our present and future. Our real enemies are those in power; it has always been the case. Just because we keep voting for them does not mean they will look after our interests or even the ‘national interest’. It is not replacing one of them with another of their ilk that will change the course of India. What we need is a new order, a disruptive innovation, a real alternative – one that takes power and the control of public wealth away from the politicians and bureaucrats and returns both to people.
There is No Alternative?
If not X, then who? It is the perpetual question of Indian politics. X has changed over the decades; the question has not. We box ourselves into thinking that just because the alternative is worse we have no choice but to vote for the incumbent. We feel so helpless against the onslaught of the propaganda unleashed that we give up. Everyone else seems to be supporting the current God or Goddess (Ram or Durga) of India; all the WhatsApp messages say so. Just see how bad the alternative is. You seriously want to vote for him/her? And what difference will our single vote make? We trap ourselves with this narrow thinking. That is if we think at all. In most cases, the decision who to support or vote isn’t something we worry about – we cannot individually impact the outcome of an election. So why bother? We spend more time thinking what to order online than who to vote for.
But what if we there is an alternative – not visible yet, but something that we can together create. Would we then act? What if there is an alternative that can get rid of our real enemies and give us genuine freedom, equality and prosperity – would we then choose to do something about it? For once, would we set aside everything that divides us and focus on uniting with others irrespective of caste, class or community? Are we willing to coordinate our actions to defeat India’s real enemies?
This is the revolution India needs: one where we the people unite to win and the politicians and bureaucrats lose. A few years ago, it would have been very difficult to coordinate our actions. Today, digital platforms can make that happen. All we need is a realisation of who our real enemies are and a determination to defeat them. The way is there; do we have the will to win?
For too long, we have been losing in India – not to our South East Asian neighbours, not to China and Pakistan, but to our politicians and bureaucrats. They amass power and wealth by taking from us. Year after year, decade after decade, they have made what once would have seemed wrong as the new normal. A few of us have to understand what has happened in the past and why a change is needed. We cannot persuade everyone – most do not have the time or the interest. But everyone has a vote. And that is what our focus must be – changing enough minds and uniting enough vote so we can start building the alternative.
Technology has transformed our personal lives through the years. It is time for us to use the same technology to transform our nation. It will not be easy; the politicians and bureaucrats will not give up their power without a fierce fight. They have the on-off switch to the same digital tools that we need to organise. Once they see the threat, they will hit back hard. We have to be ready and united.
This is the Indian Revolution we need to fight for with our votes as weapons – to create the alternative, to eject the real enemies of our nation from the positions they occupy, to craft a better economic future for ourselves so India’s 1.3 billion people can each live a life not in servitude of the few but of their own choice. This is our struggle for a new India – where we all win. Where we are not forever pitted against each other, but we combine to create wealth. Where the pool of wealth is not a limited pie, but where we can create new innovations for unlimited enrichment for all. We need to make a choice about the India in which our children will grow up – a controlled, unequal and impoverished India or a free, equal and rich India? It’s up to us to decide. Now.
To change minds, channel votes and win elections, we need to offer an alternative. A new direction, a Nayi Disha. We need a clear purpose, a messaging pipe to reach out to people, political entrepreneurs to rise, a platform to unite these entrepreneurs and the voters, leading to a path to power and eventually prosperity. This is our struggle for a better India.
Purpose: The objective is clear – freedom. A completion of the unfinished mission of the Indian freedom struggle in the first half of the 20th century. We only attained independence from the British; we did not get political and economic freedom. We need the Indian Revolution to change the existing political and economic system. The current political system has concentrated power with a few at the top in politicians and bureaucrats who have become the new British – enacting law after law to extract and exploit Indians. The present economic system constrains enterprise and wealth creation. We need an India where individual freedom is the norm, where government is limited, where markets are allowed to function and where rule of law exists. We need an India where free and responsible Indians can engage in voluntary exchange that are win-win for both sides. Only in such an India will mass flourishing and prosperity happen.
Pipe: The first step to making this alternative vision of a new India a reality is to get the message across to large numbers – a pipe to the masses. In an increasingly repressive environment where the mundane could be seen as seditious, we need a mechanism to create safe spaces for people to communicate and coordinate. A content factory needs to constantly separate fact from the fiction we are fed, and to spread truth in a melange of falsehood forwards.
Preneurs: The second step is to facilitate the rise of political entrepreneurs – let’s call them ‘preneurs’ to distinguish them from business entrepreneurs and politicians. These preneus need to rise in every neighbourhood. The triad of debating societies, local circles and Sabhas can help the emergence of people with a genuine interest in making a better India.
Platform: The third step is to build a political platform that unites the non-aligned and non voters who together comprise two-thirds of Indians. This is where UVI (United Voters of India) comes in. It can facilitate digital co-ordination between the preneurs and the people.
Power: The final step to power is by winning elections. Independents, backed by UVI and selected via primaries, need to be voted to create a Swatantra Lok Sabha – independent of the politicians and their parties. This is the big, hairy audacious goal, the loonshot. Because without winning elections and forming a government, no change will be possible. The government so formed must dismantle the anti-prosperity machine and undo every measure that holds back Indians from wealth creation. This is the premise of the Nayi Disha manifesto and Dhan Vapasi.
Prosperity: An India that is free, equal and rich will be the eventual outcome once the new rules and processes are in place. There can be no prosperity without freedom for all and equality before law. We have not seen either in our lifetimes except as words in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. Our lighthouse must be the US Constitution – get the rules right and let the people do the rest.
This is the better India we can create in our lifetime; this has to be our struggle. A billion Indians free from the tyranny of the state can look after themselves much better than a predatory government ever can. Indians thus freed can also contribute immensely to global progress and innovation, and Make Bharat Mahaan, as it once was.