To say SV Raju led a difficult life is an understatement to say the least. Not to mention entirely unimaginable for a 21st century citizen bred on one-trick wonder forms of media. His beliefs synchronized with his actions in perfect harmony and this ensured that he saw a lifetime of uncertain and thwarted political ambitions, as well as dwindling readership for a publication, which imparted a philosophy no one in the Indian mainstream ever argued or petitioned even despite its pure libertarianism.
Raju was a part of the Swatantra Party, a footnote in the annals of Indian politics, albeit an important one. Swatantra was founded in 1959 with C.Rajagopalachari as its founder alongwith Minoo Masani, a former chief of staff of JRD Tata and NG Ranga, an Oxford educated peasant leader, with the motto of “To Prosperity Through Freedom”. The party originated out of an opposition to a new resolution adopted by the Congress Party which sought to change the structure of agriculture in the country by enforcing collective farming and revising the rights of farmers. Swatantra sought to emerge as an anti-socialist voice in Nehruvian Socialist landscape of the Indian polity.
With a slogan of “For Farm, Family and Freedom”, Swatantra Party emerged from its nascent origins to emerge as the largest opposition party in the 1967 elections, offering a progressive 21 point agenda, which was ground-breaking for its period. But a slew of negative PR and portrayal as a party of ‘rich industrials’ and ‘feudal lords’ saw the party disintegrating in 1974, with one arm joining Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Kranti Dal and the other joining the Janata Party.
The demise of Swatantra saw Raju transitioning into his most important role as the editor of Freedom First in 1978, a journal started in 1952. The journal was setup by the Indian Committee For Cultural Freedom, spearheaded by Minoo Masani, as a non-party group of scholars, writers, artists and scientists to defend intellectual liberty, cultivate a spirit of free enquiry and an appreciation of the arts.
India’s first libertarian magazine offers a peek of its core belief system online. ‘Freedom First believes in an open society based on minimum government and maximum freedom tempered by a sense of individual responsibility, in which the people’s genius has a fair opportunity to develop and grow; and rejects any ideology, movement or policy that sets one group of citizens against another be it based on class, caste, religion or envy.’
What sets Freedom First apart is Raju’s staunch opposition to crony capitalism. Jerry Rao, a friend of Raju describes that it was often Raju’s own money and infrequent donations from Swatantra friends of Rs. 10,000 - 15,000 that paid for the printing of the magazine. The magazine has remained true to its beliefs of cultural freedom and liberty with no leanings to the popular right or left ideologies/ beliefs in the country. There were repeated attempts made by esteemed businessmen and industrialists to buy the magazine and help support it but Raju remained defiant saying
“It would then become their mouthpiece, and not a platform for the ideas Freedom First stands for”, an astounding example of integrity for the 1,500-2,000 readers of the magazine.
The website of Freedom First now presents an archive of all the issues which ever plagued Free India over several decades, but were seldom discussed in the mainstream. These range from calls to embrace capitalism and modern thinking by M.R. Masani in April 1970 as he broke down the budget and lamented how event after 20 years, India struggled to achieve desirable economic growth, rebuking the policies which would not be revised till the economic crises of the 90s. The Journal also weighs in about current issues but in their own unique style by providing historical and ideological context which few might be able to trace back- be it from tying the recent revelations that the Indian government snooped on Subhash Chandra Bose’s family to the British Intelligence setup from colonial times to the rebuking of Congress’s hypocrisy on Land Acquisition Bill tied with Jawaharlal Nehru’s anti-farmer policies by Raju himself
On May 19th S.V. Raju breathed his last, leaving a legacy of pure integrity and commitment to the cause of astute liberalism in India while Freedom First now stares at an uncertain future. Raju himself had admitted that he would shut down the magazine in the coming few months.
If Freedom First does indeed stop its publication, it will still play an indispensable role as an essential vault of Independent India’s history from lenses which one can only wonder why the Indian mainstream never made any room for.
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