Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Minoo Masani had in mind a liberal party

On Watching Elections On TV from ANTIDOTE by Sauvik. Anyway, it was great to read SV Raju today talking of Minoo Masani and his gang fighting the 1957 elections as independents. That was politics based on the philosophy of classical liberalism. The story should inspire us in these otherwise bleak and uninspiring times. I was born in 1957, and it was heartening to note that we have some real old-timers around, on our side. Keep it up, Mr. Raju.

Posted: Thu, May 7 2009. Unaffiliated: the case of 1957
Despite Prime Minister Singh’s attack on independents, history demonstrates they can aid Indian democracy S.V. Raju

By 1956, already disturbed by the sharp turn to the “Left” that the country was taking as a result of the second five-year Plan, with its emphasis on the state occupying the “commanding heights of the economy”, and the increasing influence of the Communists in the governance of the country, Minoo Masani and a few of his peers in industry and commerce were convinced that (to quote Masani) “the time had come for a new political initiative by which the monopoly enjoyed by the various socialist and Communist parties could be broken”.

What he had in mind was a liberal party with policies and programmes distinct from other political parties that were merely “various versions of the collectivist paradise, which had been presented to the Indian people since independence”. Always a man who rarely allowed too much time to lapse between thought and action, Masani, who was at that time a senior executive in the Tata organization, felt that with the general election due in 1957 around the corner, there wasn’t enough time to organize such a new party.

Along with Col Leslie Sawhny, his colleague in Tata who had taken premature retirement from the army, he persuaded some of their friends to stand as independent candidates in the 1957 election to the Lok Sabha. These friends, all industrialists, businessmen and professionals, were Sir Homi Mody, a banker and an adviser to the house of Tatas; S. Goyal, a businessman; R.V. Murthy, a journalist and editor of Commerce, a popular economic weekly; H.R. Pardivala, a well-known lawyer; and Eric D’Costa, a journalist and editor of the Eastern Economist, and pioneer in the now flourishing business of opinion polls.

Minoo Masani had in mind a liberal party with policies distinct from other political parties

These gentlemen, though in effect independents, contested the election on the symbols of various recognized regional parties to improve their chances of winning. For instance, Masani contested from Ranchi on the symbol of the then Jharkhand Party, Mody and Murthy on the symbol of the Ram Rajya Parishad, and so on. The idea was to get into Parliament and sit as independents and not as members of the party whose symbol they had “borrowed”.

Masani was the only one to win.
Back in Parliament (he was a member of the Indian legislative assembly, which later converted itself into the constituent assembly), Masani joined a grouping of independent members of Parliament, which went under the name of the Independent Parliamentary Group. The steering committee of this group consisted of Jaipal Singh, leader of the Jharkhand Party; Frank Anthony, the nominated member representing the Anglo-Indian community and Maharaja Karni Singh of Bikaner. Almost simultaneously, he set in motion efforts to form a liberal democratic party, the primary reasons for his wanting to get back into Parliament.

What happened thereafter is another story—a sequel, if you like.
That Sonia Gandhi seconds Singh’s advice is quite in keeping with her father-in-law’s disapproval of feudal elements, businessmen and capitalists engaging in democratic electoral politics.

For S.V.Raju, the 1957 general election was the first election in which he could, and did, cast his vote. He was later executive secretary of the Swatantra Party at its national headquarters. He is the author of a biography of Minoo Masani published by the National Book Trust. Comments are welcome at theirview@livemint.com

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