By Sanjeev Sabhlok
This appears to be a broadly liberal interview—on the surface.
We know how the rump of Swatantra joined with Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Kranti Dal. That group ultimately merged into the Janata Party.
However, a quick review of his life history and works, shows—he was not a liberal in any real sense of the world.
He didn’t like the Indian model of Socialism
The limitless prosperity, which socialism of the Congress variety has brought to the upper crust of society, is visible to the naked eye—in the change in the style and affluence of their living; in the proliferation of the four and five-star hotels, which are filled to capacity, in the growth of luxury travel facilities; in the over-crowding of the noted holiday resorts; in the multiplication of lavish residences with rich furnishings; and the display of wealth at marriages and other social functions.
As one of the consequences of the heavy industry-first strategy of development, which has led to capital starvation of agriculture, the reader has already seen in Part I of this book how the gulf between the income of an agricultural and non-agricultural worker has gone on widening since the attainment of the Independence.
Our conversion to the philosophy of ‘democratic’ socialism has worsened matters rather than improved them: on the one hand, under this brand of socialism, incentives for voluntary hard work disappear; and on the other—the workers cannot be coerced, as they are in the USSR or China. [Source]
[su_pullquote]Indian political leadership dreamt of a politico-economic order under which not only nobody would be exploited but everybody would be afforded an opportunity for self-improvement[/su_pullquote]
Being staunch believers in democracy as adumbrated in the Western literature and, at the same time, fascinated by the goals of the Russian Revolution, a large section of Indian political leadership dreamt of a politico-economic order under which not only nobody would be exploited but everybody would be afforded an opportunity for self-improvement—a dream which provided both for democratic freedom and economic equality consistent with rapid economic growth. So, influenced largely by Nehru, they plumped for a compromise between socialism and capitalism—a “mixed” economy, in which material resources of the nation would be owned and worked partly by the state and partly by citizens, in other words, where the private and the public sector would co-exist. That is why, perhaps, big businessmen also can afford to believe in or even propound “socialism” as a practical policy goal in India. [Source]Ch. Charan Singh served as the Prime Minister of India from 28 July 1979 until 14 January 1980 | Photo Courtesy: Chaudhary Charan Singh Archives
He opposed planning from the top
Planning from the top down, which socialism necessarily involves, undermines freedom because it requires people to obey orders rather than pursue their own judgment.
Further, it is inefficient because it makes impossible the use of the detailed knowledge stored among millions o f individuals. Whereas planning from the bottom up, which the economy of Gandhi’s conception implied, enlists the interests of each in promoting the wellbeing of all and, thus, subserves true democracy. [Source]
He agreed that liberal capitalism had dramatically reduced poverty
Liberal capitalism has been able to afford a flow of consumer goods so substantial and steady as to consign conditions of popular poverty to the limbo of an age as different to the present as the one that upheld the divine right of kings.
…As regards bringing about a more egalitarian society and the curbing of private monopolies which was sought to be achieved through public ownership, it was discovered that the objective could be achieved by other methods, such as—taxation, price control, quality requirements, social legislation like old age pensions, sickness benefits, and the countervailing power of trade unions. In the UK and the USA the gap between the rich and the poor has been greatly narrowed during the last quarter of a century by resorting to these methods. Whereas in India where 60 per cent of the industrial capacity is now owned by the state, the gap has greatly widened.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]Corrupt payments, idle capacities, and inefficiency have impinged directly on costs of the public sector and, hence, on its returns.[/su_pullquote]
…Corrupt payments, idle capacities, and inefficiency have impinged directly on costs of the public sector and, hence, on its returns. A substantial part of the investments which may vary from 20 to 40 per cent, depending on the projects and the parties concerned, shown in the account books, gets converted into private incomes via corrupt payments. [Source]
Disagreement with Nehru
Charan Singh was in opposition to cooperative farming (of the Communist sort) and he also wrote a book against Nehru’s passion for collectivism.
On the question of market economy, he upheld Gandhian anti-Technology as the solution over markets. He held that if the country had to be saved, the Nehruvian strategy would have to be replaced by the Gandhian approach. That is, we will have to return to Gandhi for redemption. [Source]
Given limitations of time, I’m going to form a tentative conclusion (noting that there is material I’ve read which I’ve not had time to cite).
Charan Singh didn’t like abolition of property rights and rejected top-level Nehruvian socialist planning. However, his own model was extremely weak—and he opposed the use of machinery and technology, such as tractors. He was no Adam Smith, nor a Chanakya. He was swayed by the bad economics of Gandhi.
In sum, it was a very poor decision to wind up Swatantra (although my opinion about Swatantra is constantly declining as I learn more about it and people associated with it).
Charan Singh’s ideology was in some ways like that of Loknayak JP, which I’ve discussed elsewhere on this blog. He didn’t like socialism but had no understanding of the capitalism—the results of which (for the workers) he liked.
Essentially, typical of his generation—he was very poorly educated in economics (in fact he had no formal training). Only Ambedkar comes out shining (relatively) among India’s early leaders. Charan Singh was good but failed to analyse causes properly, hence failed in leading India to prosperity.
Featured Image Source: YouTube.
This article was originally published on Sanjeev Sabhlok’s revolutionary blog.
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