We are the party that stands for citizens’ liberties and strong constraints on the government. Our commitment to liberty is consistent with India’s ancient traditions of personal accountability, open debate, tolerance and free speech.
Liberty includes the freedom to make mistakes. An intrusive state that prevents us from making mistakes or prohibits private folly or self-harm marks the end of freedom and violates the raison-d’etre for the state. Regulations for public decency and safety notwithstanding, we must remain free to act and learn.
We stand by most principles enshrined in the original Indian Constitution, which asserted private property and assured us that all Indians will be treated equally before the law. There were some misperceptions in the Constitution, like caste-based exceptions to equal treatment for 10 years, unnecessary limits on freedom of expression, Directive Principles of State Policy, and special rights for public servants, but overall, it was a good start. Unfortunately, our Constitution was distorted and our freedoms truncated by successive governments. As a party that stands for rules-based governance and the primacy of the individual over the state, we will restrain government by undertaking significant constitutional reform.
Each of us is born a separate individual. We live and die as individuals. Although a tautology, this is an unalterable law. Everything good about a nation therefore begins and ends with the individual. The free society exists purely to support the life and liberty of the individual.
Accordingly, each human life is of ultimate value, a thing of mystery, wonder and beauty. We insist that each human life be protected by the state – or be subject to due process (Those who murder or otherwise kill or harm others in a private capacity must be subject to due process: no one is free to harm others.)
Life is not worth living without freedom. Patrick Henry said, ‘Give me liberty or give me death’. This cry for freedom shall not be stifled or stilled. It emerges from the deepest recesses of every human’s soul. Slavery, either to others or to the government, is not an option.
India’s tradition of liberty has often focused on the salvation of the soul. But whether we seek such salvation or wish to otherwise fulfil our dreams, we need the freedom to explore the world and find our way. Freedom involves independent thought and self-directed, self-restrained action. It is as free individuals, through learning (including from our mistakes), initiative and enterprise, that we can reach our goal. A man’s right to think and speak what he will, to work as he chooses, to spend what he earns, to own property, to have the state as servant and not master: these are essential to the India we want.
Freedom is priceless in its own right, but it also has impacts on our material well-being. Well-regulated free societies create an environment in which businesses can compete and thrive, without undermining consumer choice and safety. A free society is best placed to overcome poverty and become rich because its citizens can aspire to their highest potential, confident in their equal rights and in laws that are administered dispassionately and fairly.
Our ideological emphasis on individual liberty does not come at the expense of the nation. A nation is more than a geographical boundary. We are keen participants in the communitarian project of nation-building. All we suggest is that a rightful focus on the nation must not come at the expense of the individual. It is from an assurance of freedom for all its citizens that a nation derives its moral validation, and its loyalties.
Freedom is bound at all times by accountability. There is no freedom to harm others. (The harm caused must, of course, be direct and real, not subjective, exaggerated or imaginary.)
Our rights are limited by the equal rights of others. Where our actions impact others (positively or negatively), our mutually agreed prior contracts and understandings create precisely measurable accountabilities. Justice is the process of assuring such accountabilities. A free society requires a system of justice in which general laws apply to all, and everyone is held to account. The state, as umpire, merely assures our safety and documents these understandings and accountabilities through the laws. It does not create them.
Animals have a right to live without pain. We do not have a right to inhumanely treat any animal, including animals we consume for food. While these other forms of life cannot speak for themselves, we are accountable to each other for creating a humane society. Swarna Bharat Party is committed to the protection of wildlife and domesticated animals. In addition, we believe that plant diversity and the environment must be well maintained, for ourselves and our future generations.
Liberty is comprehensive. No list can do it adequate justice. Nevertheless, we outline a few foundational liberties below.
Freedom of speech is the lodestar of liberty. Without it, no other liberty can possibly exist.
When Lillian Gobitas Klose at age 12 refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance (to salute the US flag) as an act of conscience, the American Justice Robert Jackson said in 1943 ‘If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.’
Free speech is not always pleasant to the ears. Speech can be used by obnoxious people and by those we despise. But a free people would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it. Defending freedom of speech means, at the only meaningful level, defending the speech rights of people one profoundly disagrees with or despises.
A mature democracy insists on absolute freedom of speech. The USA set an example for the world through the First Amendment to its Constitution. Its example has not been improved to date. The First Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The American First Amendment is not outcome-dependent. The US Government is barred from restricting speech no matter any good results that would result from restrictions. The dangers of allowing a government to restrict speech overwhelmingly exceed any benefits so derived. The USA will never have Nazis and fascists in power, not because America is free of racism or authoritarianism, but because when such ideas are discussed freely and openly, they can be refuted freely and openly. The more an idea is suppressed, the stronger it becomes.
Such a simple rule – about absolute freedom of speech – was all we needed in the Indian Constitution. Unfortunately, that’s not what we got. And by now, speech rights have been so badly diluted that we have no meaningful free speech protections. As a result, India’s press freedom ranks 140 out of 181 nations in the world and every fanatic is free to block speech because he or she can’t control his or her violent urges.
Being offended doesn’t lead to leprosy. It is a subjective state, not something anyone is obliged to bother about. It is no excuse for blocking free speech.
India must have absolute free speech. Nothing less will do. Although many of its articles area phrased in a confusing manner, there is no confusion in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states unambiguously: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’.
The only legitimate restrictions to speech relate to fraud (including creating undue panic), libel, extortion, divulging military secrets, and credible threats of violence or incitement to immediate violence. But these exceptions must be strictly delineated and individually justified. And, of course, commercial speech can be regulated for appropriateness of the age of the audience (e.g. time-based programming on TV).
India once had a proud heritage of free speech and open discourse. Unfortunately, during British rule we lost much of this and have still not recovered. Draconian laws like s.153A and s.295A of the IPC pander to the whims of fundamentalists. Many more draconian laws are by now rampant, such as s.66 of the IT Act (even as 66A has been declared unconstitutional). These must go.
To achieve absolute freedom of speech:
Property accrues to us through our actions (including the actions of our parents or other well-wishers), being an attribution of the results of these actions. It arises, thus, from justice. Further, the law of limitations prevents endless pursuits regarding the origins of the specific property.
While property is an outcome of justice, equally, there can be no justice without the certainty of property rights. Without property rights there can be no trade either; hence no civilisation. A free society government’s role includes clarifying and defending the scope and extent of property rights.
In defining and protecting national territory, the state acquires eminent domain. This does not, however, over-ride private property rights, and must be used only for specified public purposes.
We outline elsewhere a constitutional amendment to affirm property rights, and to place strong limits on eminent domain, in order to constrain the coercive land acquisition powers of the state.
The right to live, work and worship according to one’s faith is a fundamental freedom. Everyone must have the freedom to profess and maintain his or her opinion in matters of religion. People are entitled to seek the truth (as they see it), form beliefs and live according to the dictates of their conscience. They are entitled (if they wish) to care for the poor, heal the sick and serve their communities in accordance with the faith.
The issue of religion is intensely private. How can the state, a mere servant of the people, have a role in such a private matter of its master?
The state and religion are distinctly different domains. Citizens in a free society do not delegate any power to the state on matters of religion. Religion can never be the business of the state. The state must be entirely non-denominational. It cannot ask citizens about their religious beliefs or ‘caste’. Not only must the state not distinguish amongst citizens on grounds of religious belief, it must not recognise, comment on the merits, or make any laws regarding any religion. The government must, at all times, be ‘religion-blind’, ‘caste-blind’, ‘tribe-blind’, ‘language-blind’. It is an umpire, not a proponent.
If someone claims to be acting on behalf of a religion, the government must (in a completely unbiased manner) come down harshly on violence. The issue of religious motivation is not for the government to address. Citizens need to be held to account for any harm they may cause, regardless of their motivation (religious or otherwise).
Likewise, a government must not recognise ‘religious minorities’, since everyone must have equal protection under the law. Creating specific ‘minority’ rights violate the principle of equal treatment. (After the governance reforms are fully embedded and rule of law established, we will seek to repeal Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution.)
In India, some religious practices have become a part of social life. Many official events involve lighting a lamp, for instance, and a tika applied to the guests or they are welcomed with garlands. To avoid any confusion, we will require elected representatives from Swarna Bharat Party to strictly abjure the use any official title in such events, and participate purely in their private capacity. They will also not be allowed to bill taxpayers for attending any event with religious overtones.
Religious freedom necessarily includes the freedom to proselytise or convert, i.e. to change one’s beliefs. It must however, like all other freedoms, be accompanied by matching accountability. Although freedom of speech includes the right to preach and convert others, it must be done through legitimate methods of persuasion. We do not approve of attempts to convert people through bribes or misleading conduct.
This does not mean, however, that the government has any role in such matters. Any issue of coercion or fraud is already addressed by normal laws. Instead, we will encourage religious organisations to work out a self-regulatory code of practice that establishes minimum standards for proselytisation and conversions.
We will also repeal and/or declare unconstitutional any law that prevents conversion, even by the alleged use of ‘force, allurement, inducement or fraud’. Such laws are both unnecessary (matters of concern such as force, are already dealt with through normal laws) and counter-productive, since they leave enormous discretion with the authorities, leading to whimsical interpretations and potentially inciting social unrest. Only a self-regulatory regime can deal with the sensitivity and complexity of such matters, while preserving the freedom of religion of all Indians.
We are concerned about religious activities funded by foreign organisations. We will review the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act to clarify the meaning of the term ‘political’. Except for funding specifically intended (and used) for non-denominational educational activities and promotion of health, foreign funding that promotes any particular religion will be classified as political and thereby prohibited. Any attempts to circumvent these prohibitions will be firmly dealt with.
To scrupulously demarcate the domains of religion and the state, a government must not financially support any religious activity. For instance, subsidies for Durga Puja events on the basis that these events increase tourism are not admissible. Similarly, subsidies for religious pilgrimages such as the Haaj, or deputing government functionaries to manage a temple, are not within the scope of the state. Today, the government is often asked to step in when a temple’s organisation becomes defunct or temple land reverts to the state. We will enact laws to prohibit government management of religious institutions. Any such temple could request the courts to appoint an administrator, but that administrator shall not be an employee of the government. Further, we will auction any religious properties that revert back to the state, just like any other surplus government land.
Being religious does not give us a natural right to break the law, such as by encroaching public land, harbouring criminals or terrorists, harassing or threatening people engaged in non-violent discourse, or creating a public nuisance such as by feeding stray animals, fouling rivers and ponds, or blaring loudspeakers at unseemly hours. Anyone who violates the general laws must be brought to book, regardless of claimed motivation.
We will firmly stop encroachments on public land by religious or other organisations. Any such ‘religious’ super-structure (building) will either be removed and auctioned to recover costs of removal, or handed to any religious organisation/s that wish to take ownership – subject to their paying the costs. Similarly, we will not hesitate to penalise any religious or other institutions that violate noise regulations.
Markets, where citizens voluntarily trade and barter or undertake an occupation of their choice, determine the economic value of any goods and services that we produce through the interaction of supply and demand. In their natural pursuit of profit, sellers steer their resources to where the demand, and therefore price, is highest. Resources are drawn to their most valued application without the need for any central direction.
No government is capable of determining the price (economic value) of any product at a point in time since it cannot (no one can) have access to the local information relevant to each transaction. Markets – through voluntary exchange – lead to Pareto optimal outcomes (in which no person is made worse off, while most become better off). Each market transaction thus adds to a society’s wealth: such increasing prosperity being a happy consequence of freedom.
Instead of trying to plan an economy (through quotas, for instance) or undertaking activities that the market should, the state has a pivotal role in establishing and monitoring the rules of the game. It needs to facilitate free markets through appropriate regulation against fraud or abuse. There is no freedom to harm anyone, so voluntary transactions must abide by the discipline of contracts and accountability. Similarly, while ensuring freedom of occupation, we will regulate risky professions to ensure social decorum and occupational health and safety. The state can also facilitate infrastructure, including a (minimalist, enabling) design of urban spaces, to foster trade and prosperity.
India was a free market in labour, goods, services, and capital for thousands of years. The world came to our shores to trade. But since independence, the Indian state has not heeded the learnings documented in the Arthashastra. It has, instead, blocked business and trade (often in the name of protecting the fat cat ‘infants’ who allegedly run our businesses) and taken up direct ownership of businesses. This is a sure way to impoverish a nation. And so India ranks poorly on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness index.
Countries at the top in global competitiveness rankings have stable, transparent and effective institutions that foster enterprise, sound and healthy public finances, an attractive tax regime, excellent infrastructure and connectivity, a world-class education (including vocational) system, flexible labour markets, high levels of business sophistication and an exceptional capacity for innovation. All this suggests numerous roles for government in supporting free trade and free enterprise, not directly engaging in business. It is not only free trade with other countries that is needed, there needs to be free trade within India. The only occasion when free trade could potentially be questioned is when goods are ‘dumped’ at prices below production cost. But this argument is similar to the ‘infant industry’ argument. In such cases as well, demanding barriers to trade is (except in the rarest of cases) bad policy. Only through robust competition can India increase the wealth of its people.
Everyone must be equally free. This means the laws must apply equally to all. The state must be blind to differences amongst its citizens. This foundational principle of a free society rules out industry subsidies, or special favours to any group. Likewise, recruitment and promotion decisions in the government cannot consider birth or social characteristics.
But what about the social insurance programme that pays a top-up income to the poor? This programme is a general, rules-based insurance policy. It is available to all citizens when they fall into extreme poverty. Hence it does not violate the rule of law.
There is an important proviso. The rule of law applies only to the laws and to the state. It does not oblige private citizens to treat each other equally. They are free to trade, bargain and hire and fire as they wish – on the basis of any characteristic. That the market is unlikely to reward them for discrimination does not concern the state. They do not break any principle of liberty by discriminating in their private capacity.
For freedom to become more meaningful, a free society should aim (through a social insurance programme) that everyone gets – to the extent reasonable – a level playing field. An absolutely equal playing field is fundamentally impossible since each person’s intelligence and talents are different, being largely determined by biological processes. This does not mean that avoidable handicaps (such as extreme poverty) can’t be addressed by the state.
A free society aims to equalise opportunities to the extent reasonable by educating and ensuring healthcare for the poorest, and by eliminating extreme poverty.
Subject to satisfactory funding and achievement of the core functions of the state (defence, police and justice) we will enact a social insurance programme to ensure that Indians who are unable to provide for themselves are able to live in frugal dignity and send their children to good schools. The social minimum will be just enough to eliminate extreme poverty but not enough to distort work incentives. This is by no means a redistribution programme. We do not believe in transferring money from hard working taxpayers to those who choose to be idle even when fit to work. The social minimum will remain quite basic, far lower than anyone would like to settle for. And there will be a work test for any payment made.
The individual – the focus of our ideology – is closely integrated to the community through a bond that goes beyond geographical boundaries. Our ideology encompasses a significant role for the family, community, and nation.
The family is the primary institution for fostering values. Only through cohesive families can a cohesive society be built. The success of marriage and family creates a successful society and nurtures new generations. Studies show that married adults tend to live longer, are healthier and even have higher incomes. We particularly value the role of mothers, sisters, and daughters in nurturing a great society; but everyone has a role to play.
A free society is a society of self-driven volunteers. It relies on the voluntary participation of citizens in clubs, associations, charities and community groups. A pluralistic free society has a wide range of civil society organisations, each focused on developing a unique aspect of community life.
As individual members of Swarna Bharat Party, we are firmly committed to social equality, in addition to equality under the laws. This means we celebrate all Indians and oppose social discrimination, such as through caste structures. Many of us will continue to fight for the equal social status for all Indians in our private capacity. Some of us will also undertake reforms relating to our own religion. (The government has no role in social or religious reform.)
India is a civilizational idea, and since 1947 it is a united nation. But for all practical purposes, it is founded in territory. Without physical territory that is jointly defended by its citizens, a people become vulnerable to aggression. It is crucial to have an effective, strong nation. We firmly support and defend the integrity of India’s territory and the oneness of its people.
Further, our planet – long battered by a barbaric horde of collectivist ideologies – needs an ethical compass. Indian philosophical traditions – founded on freedom, tolerance for diversity, and an appreciation of differences of opinion – can provide a guide. We believe India has a role to play in building and sustaining a peaceful world.
 This does not mean that the State will not provide security for religious events. In most cases, however, the organisers will be required to pay a fee to cover the costs of security.