Here's an extract from Breaking Free of Nehru. It summarises where Nehru went wrong – namely, in DESTROYING our freedoms.
At a fundamental level this is a book about India’s freedom. It says that we need to break free of Nehru in order to restore our freedoms. To become free. To be unleashed. Not because we dislike Nehru in any way. Freedom in the abstract may not sound important enough, or even relevant, as we spend our daily energies fuming over the chronic problems of misgovernance, corruption, poverty and a seemingly excessive population. But it is this freedom that we need more than anything else today in India. This intangible but crucial dimension, not commonly factored into our decisions and discussions, is the missing ingredient that will deliver the final blows of death to poverty and corruption, and create an unprecedented equality of opportunity in India. To acquire an understanding of this missing ingredient in our policy we must first find out where we stand in relation to freedom today, and having done that, determine where we should go next. And each time we analyse the facts we discover that Nehru deliberately and consciously blocked our freedom.
The primary requirement of freedom is that people should be left free to do whatever they wish to do, or can do, on their own initiative. A government should intervene only when it is essential that it do so, as in the provision of security, law and order, justice, some infrastructure and equality of opportunity. Going beyond this minimal support, and using people’s hard earned money, namely taxes, to set up bread or shirt businesses to be operated by the government, which will invariably be inefficient and non-competitive – thus destroying both our wealth and opportunities – is not the way of freedom. Seizing people’s lands and property in order to redistribute them, à la Robin Hood; preventing people from establishing their own businesses; laying down barriers to people’s creative power and free movement and commerce, is not the way of freedom. But all these are among the things that Nehru’s own regime did. He set up processes to systematically block our freedoms. Preserving our freedoms was never his priority.
Nehru’s eminently laudable goal was to bring about rapid economic growth in India. But his chosen method was to directly take this task upon his government. He stopped people from undertaking their livelihood so that he could use our money to drive buses, to bake bread and to stitch shirts. He thought that if the government became the entrepreneur, and achieved commanding heights of the economy, then he could push India’s growth to the zenith. We citizens were apparently fools who could not run our businesses by ourselves. We needed arrogant IAS officers who had never touched a screwdriver in their lives or sold a banana to run them for us.
After that, his system would apparently produce all the wealth India needed which he could then redistribute and spoon-feed us (having tied our hands behind our backs), setting everything right! Whether anyone became less free as part of his frantic ambition did not matter. Freedom, the means, the very reason for our independence, could be sacrificed if the ends of growth and poverty alleviation were somehow achieved.
Nehru’s intentions were surely good in the sense that he wanted India to become a more prosperous country. Growth and poverty alleviation are good things to aspire for. Where Nehru was totally wrong, though, was in his approach to achieving these goals. And yet, in the final reckoning, the means must surely be at least as important as the ends. Destroying our freedom on the pretext of speeding our journey to prosperity is wrong. We would rather be poor but free, than rich but shackled.
But most ironically, Nehru simply could never have achieved his ends by destroying our freedoms. Wealth isn’t created but destroyed when governments become entrepreneurs. Such an ambition is in stark opposition to the logic that drives the creation of the wealth of nations. Wealth creation depends on our voluntary choice and independent action as elaborated in 1776 by Adam Smith. It is only freedom that leads to prosperity, not being shackled.
And therefore, the very opposite of Nehru’s ambitions came to pass: India’s productivity plummeted; production fell; infrastructure bottlenecks became chronic; we never managed to get even basic things like electricity continuously for an hour on hot summer nights. Our population remained illiterate and poor. It also kept growing in size – for poverty breeds desperation, and desperation breeds children. Millions of innocent lives were created and blighted in our so-called ‘free’ India. Millions of innocents were forced to live and to die in hunger, poverty, squalor and disease: all because of Nehru’s policies. Sriram Natarajan, a reader, suggested that we could compute these virtual lives lost in some manner. That would be an interesting area for future research. Large but well-educated populations are never a problem. However, ours is a large and illiterate population now. There are good reasons for seeing this as a problem even though one can never think of any other human being as a problem except when issues of individual accountability arise with a particular person.
Since Nehru’s path led to economic stagnation rather than to wealth, we are compelled to critique some of Nehru’s contributions and, where necessary, break free of his legacy. Only to that extent, no more than that.
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