A New Swarajya

Publication Date: 
Thursday, 11 September 2014

In the launch edition of Swarajya, circa 1956, C Rajagopalachari made a compelling argument for the need of a “gadfly-Weekly-paper” that is governed by a sense of “Truth and public welfare”.

In an article titled “Value of Frank Criticism”, Rajagopalachari — founder of Swatantra Party and popularly known as Rajaji–stated that “great governments benefit by criticism, without which they are bound to deteriorate in self-complacency and unchecked self-will”.

Indeed, from the time of its launch to the time Swarajya shut down in 1980, the weekly emerged as a media platform that provided the most coherent intellectual challenge to the ever-expanding socialist state under the Indian National Congress rule. With KhasaSubba Rau as its astute editor, Swarajya had contributors like RK Laxman, Minoo Masani, Ramaswamy Venkataraman and GV Krupanidhi, and took on the socialist orthodoxy of the ruling government at a time when the Indian mainstream press was reluctant to do so.

It was Rajaji who coined the term Permit/Licence Rajand launched a scathing attack against the regulation of the private sector. In the introduction to the book Profiles in Courage: Dissent on Indian Socialism, Parth J Shah notes: “It was their [Swarajya and Swatantra Party’s] courage to stand against the popularity and charisma of Nehru that, as Khasa put it, ‘saved individual life from the soul-crushing oppression of the Leviathan State disguised in Socialist raiment’.”

Together the legacy of Swarajya and Swatantra Party are a testament to India’s deep liberal roots that championed free-markets and individualism over collectivist policies. The news of the revival of the magazine, then, is opportune – not because we need to be saved from so-called Nehruvian socialism, but because there’s a real danger of right liberalism getting confused with sycophancy for the new dispensation that has pitched itself as the anti-thesis to Congress’ dole-dependant politics.

If Swarajya in its new avatar can look beyond fawning over Modi and the minutiae of his political ascent — because that is what many op-ed and TV commentator shave reduced the idea of right liberalism to — it would be refreshing. In fact, it would be much more than just refreshing – the need for a sane right-wing voice that draws from sound rationale and not unquestioning adulation (as the case is now) is almost urgent now.

Set to relaunch with a digital daily in October this year and a monthly print magazine in early 2015, Swarajya will hopefully fill the void of right-liberal commentary in mainstream media. It will have Sandipan Deb as Editorial Director, who has been Founding Editor of Open, and former Managing Editor of Outlook. TR Vivek, who has been with Open and Economic Times in senior editorial roles, will be Executive Editor.

“We found the legacy of Swarajya precious, and extremely relevant to the India of today. And see ourselves merely as custodians of an idea nurtured by Khasa and CR [C Rajagopalachari]. That is why we acquired the rights to the brand Swarajya and its archives from Chennai-based Bharathan Publications. The new Swarajya’s primary focus would be to help India become confident and punch commensurate to its true heft Socially, Politically, Economically and Culturally — what we term as SPEC,” says Vivek, adding that he is a long-time admirer of Rajaji and has worked on a couple of projects on him.

The magazine will absorb the web portal centreright.in and has ambitions to be a 360-degree media company. Vivek has been a contributor and “well-wisher” of the web platform and says Swarajya was the next stage of evolution for centreright.in. Amar Govindarajan and Prasanna Viswanathan, who are part of the chief editorial team of centreright.in, will manage business operations as Chief Digital Officer and Chief Executive Officer of Swarajya, respectively. The two along with Sandipan and Vivek are also equity participants in the venture. For now, they are reluctant to divulge the ownership pattern of the magazine but state that Swarajya is backed by like-minded professional venture capital and angel investors with expertise in nurturing start-ups.

It has an Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) in place and the current members include businessman and entrepreneur Jerry Rao, Oxus Chairman Surjit Bhalla, economist and indologist Bibek Debroy, and veteran journalist Swapan Dasgupta.

Apart from providing strategic guidance, the EAB, says Vivek, will also give insights to the editorial team on ways to nurture an intellectually-diverse, vibrant liberal centre-right conversation.

While Rau had stated in his maiden article in Swarajya that the magazine “has no fixed policy settled in advance to suit prospective occasions” and that it is “attached to no party and recognises no loyalty except the public interest”, Vivek says the current members of team Swarajya are committed to liberal right-of-centre ideas that they believe offer the best way to channel the positive impulses of a young nation. “When journalist KhasaSubba Rau started Swarajya with the patronage of C Rajagopalachari (CR) in 1956, their objectives were fairly similar,” he says, emphasising, though, that Swarajya will be fiercely independent. “We will not be politically partisan, but a ‘broad church’ of right liberal ideas. We stand for certain principles such as individual liberty and enterprise, free markets, a small State, openness, and cultural rootedness that is mindful of India’s diversity,” he says.

The focus of the magazine will be on what its editors have identified as SPEC. Swarajya aims to employ a mix of commentary, analysis, research, reportage and satire to drive home the point. While the earlier Swarajya was headquartered in Madras, the magazine’s new home will be Bangalore: for its editors the city represents a microcosm of the new India they wish to target. It will also have an office in Delhi to start with and hope to expand later to other states.

Given its stated objective of remaining committed to centre-right ideology, skeptics can’t be blamed for wondering if it will become an agent of the ruling party. Will Swarajya be any different from various media websites that have emerged in the recent past and serve more as fan literature than journalism? “Our commentary may at times be supportive of some whose convictions converge with ours but we will not be the mouthpiece of any political party or individual,” says Vivek, adding that the media outlet will not be insular or parochial or be an inflexible doctrinaire.

It’s way early to judge if the new Swarajya will live up to the tall legacy of Rau and Rajaji, but if the editorial team does walk the talk, it may end up being the much-needed balance to the hegemonic influence that the Left has enjoyed so far in the mainstream press of the country.  The hashtag in its masthead definitely inspires confidence.

Read the complete article on NewsLaundry.