The name of C Rajagopalachari (1878-1972) is usually followed or preceded by a series of descriptions – it is hard to sum up the lawyer, activist, freedom fighter, politician and thinker in a few words. In his political career, he served as the last governor-general of India, he was the chief minister of the erstwhile Madras State, the governor of West Bengal as well as the Minister for Home Affairs in the Indian Union.
Disillusioned by the Indian National Congress, which he had been a prominent leader of for many years, Rajagopalachari in 1959 formed the Swatantra Party, which was active till 1979. On the occasion of his 138th birth anniversary, here is an excerpt from a speech given by Rajagopalachari at the Preparatory Convention of Swatantra Party in Bombay on August 1, 1959, detailing the guiding principles of the new party and why it was a political alternative to the Congress.
“I have been asked to inaugurate this convention of the Swatantra Party. I do it with great pleasure as well as with a due sense of responsibility. I am not inaugurating merely a party. I think we are inaugurating a movement of freedom. Forty years ago, when I was 40 years old, after 20 years’ practice at the Bar, and 12 years of political life in connection with the Congress and the Nationalist Party of that time and the Home Rule movement, I joined the Noncooperation Movement in close collaboration with and under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Now when I am twice that age, I am leading a revolt against what I have come to believe to be a fatally wrong direction taken by the Indian National Congress in the governance of this great country.
I have come to the conclusion that a movement for freedom, as important and as serious as the movement for independence against British rule, has now to be inaugurated against this misconceived progress of the Congress towards what will finally end in the suppression of individual liberty and the development of the State into a true Leviathan. The State is becoming a giant entity by itself menacingly poised against the citizen, interfering with his life at all points, mistrusting the people, imposing restrictions, introducing a series of controls and regulations, stepping into the fields of agriculture, industry and trade, creating an army of officials, tremendously increasing the cost of administration and therefore the taxes paid by the nation, hypnotising the people with slogans that are mistaken for thought and wisdom, a scheme of government in which it is taken for granted that the citizen is ignorant of what is his own interest.
The ruling party must be replaced by a party that will respect the freedom of the individual. The Swatantra Party stands for this freedom. It stands for individual initiative and enterprise. State initiative, except where it is conceded to be necessary, amounts to compulsion. Compulsion kills initiative, and regulation kills interest and responsibility. We want all policies to be based on faith in the people as the moral foundation of government, discarding compulsion. Taxation is not, as some persons wrongly imagine, ruled out by our doctrine of freedom.
Taxation may be high, though not excessive, according to the amount of the welfare activities taken up by the state. What we object to is taxation that cripples private initiative and kills the goose which we expect to lay eggs of gold. There is a wide spectrum between absolute freedom and socialist regulations or state capitalism. We stand for a pull towards private initiative and the liberty of the citizen to live a free life. We are against any form of deception intended to deceive the poorer sections of the people. There is no morality in promising the people what cannot be performed, just to strengthen your party.
We cannot fight oppression if we continue to be afraid of oppression. We cannot fight and remove the cause of fear if we do not throw off fear. To be afraid is to be more and more victimised. The convention will presently consider and settle the programme of the Party. But I can say even at this stage that the Swatantra Party is pledged to social justice and equality of opportunity for all people without distinction not only of religion, caste or occupation but even of political affiliations. The Party is based on the truth that the progress, welfare, and the true happiness of the people of our country, as in other countries, depend on individual incentive, enterprise and energy. The state is merely an aggregation. We hold that state interference and state management destroy individual incentive, individual freedom and energy. We therefore stand for the great principle enunciated by Gandhiji and constantly emphasised by him, of maximum freedom for the individual and minimum interference by the State.
We hold, as I have said before, that our fundamental article of faith for the policies of government should be founded on faith in the people and not on state compulsion and certainly not on the encouragement of hatred and conflict between class and class or on expropriation of lawfully held property, repudiation of obligations and on the conferment of more and more powers on the officials of government at the expense of the freedom of the citizen. We hold that the state should foster and utilise the sense of moral obligation felt by individuals to serve others and the pride and satisfaction such service gives, which are inherent in our tradition rather than adopting legislative or executive compulsion. We hold that every effort should be made to foster and maintain spiritual values. We hold that the present policies and trends of the ruling party lead to the increasing dominance of a purely materialistic philosophy.
Eye on target
There is a pervading sense of uncertainty in the country. We hold that this is fatal to progress. The Swatantra Party should keep as its immediate goal the aim and the sense of stability and incentive for individual effort. This can only be done by strict adherence to the fundamental rights and guarantees specified in the Constitution as originally adopted in respect of freedom of property, trade and occupation and that if any property is to be compulsorily acquired by the State for public purposes, just compensation should be given. Whatever principles are laid down as a result of deliberations at this convention I feel that we should make it clear that on any matter not covered by those principles every member of the party should be completely free to hold his own views and to express them and to organise for carrying them into effect without being deterred or restricted by the party whips.
This is not intended to rope in all kinds of people but it is intended to create a sense of freedom instead of the present prevailing sense of suppression in the atmosphere of political parties. Just as we desire to have minimum government and maximum freedom for the citizen we ought to have minimum party restrictions and maximum freedom so that if and when we get into a position of responsibility we shall not be interfering with the essential principle of democracy that, on all issues, outside the fundamentals of the Party, the real majority view of Parliament on those matters should prevail and not what is really a minority opinion happening to be the majority view of the ruling party. These restrictions and whips and rules of discipline that are deemed so sacred in the present climate of political parties, really convert the parties into mere cliques. In the fundamentals of the Party, there should be no swerving from accepted principles.
In all other matters, we should be free and we should feel free. Otherwise, there can be no progress through the Parliamentary system. We should definitely turn our eyes away from the temptations of dictatorial governance. We may be relieved of a great deal of burden if we transfer all responsibilities to a dictator. But that is not the way to true happiness either for the citizen or for the people as a whole.”
This speech was republished as a part of the souvenir Rajaji: Some Speeches and Writings in 1973. The souvenir can be accessed Indian Liberals, a multi-lingual and open digital archive preserving Indian writings on liberal thought and politics.