In Mumbai, the Swatantra Party and their magazine Freedom First and the Forum of Free Enterprise were among the prominent groups that demanded more freedom for the private sector. With the onset of liberalisation in the early 1990s, they seem to have won their battle. But they have not shut shop. Ironically, where once they were considered right-wing, they now find their liberalism shoved to the middle of the road by the more-extreme notions of capitalism being advocated by younger free-market cheerleaders."
Among these new laissez-faire proponents is The Atlas Club, formed in 2006 by Mumbai resident Jerry Johnson to bring together people who admire the ideas of the Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand. Johnson advocates complete deregulation of the markets. “When we have truly free markets, we will have competitive prices and quality products and services” and corruption will disappear, said Johnson.
Rand’s championing of the virtues of selfishness have come in for criticism, especially after the recent global financial crisis. In the US, Rand’s adopted home, increasingly esoteric financial instruments created by private banks resulted in mounting debt and ultimately chaos. But Johnson is convinced that the path to progress lies in complete deregulation of the financial markets and the withdrawal of the government from all endeavours except for defence, foreign policy and law and order.
For instance, he advocates the privatisation of Mumbai’s water resources. He believes that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation creates artificial water shortages “so that water tankers, with whom the BMC is in cahoots with, can benefit by being paid exorbitant rates to deliver water”. To stop the corruption, why not let the water tankers – that is, private companies – handle water supply completely? he suggests.
Another forum which propagates Rand’s ideas is The Liberty Institute in New Delhi. Led by Barun Mitra, an engineer who says he has a passion for economics, it was formed in 1996. Mitra has a market-driven idea for tiger conservation. “I suggested breeding them to provide a supply of tigers for tourism, hunting, or Chinese medicine,” he said. This would help wild tigers survive, he claims.
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