Welcome back to Pragati.
Pragati began in 2007 as a magazine edited by Nitin Pai. It was, to quote from its first editorial, a “product of independent minds who – transcending ideological pigeonholes – are united in our determination to see a better future for our nation.” It ran continuously for nine years – you can see the archives here – and then went on a hiatus.
In that time, Pragati underscored the themes it cared about: “economic freedom, realism in international relations, an open society, a culture of tolerance and an emphasis on good governance.” Through many of these years, I wrote my own libertarian blog, India Uncut, and saw the folks at Pragati as kindred travellers. Like me, they believed in free minds and free markets, to borrow a slogan from another magazine I admire. I believed that Pragati needed to exist in the times that we lived in.
I believe this even more strongly today.
And thus, this relaunch. As a longtime well-wisher and occasional contributor, I jumped at the chance to edit Pragati because, if anything, things have gotten worse in the 10 years since Nitin wrote those words. We then bemoaned 60 years of socialist policies that had crippled our economy and held our people back from reaching their full potential. Today, despite sweeping political changes, the oppressive hand of big government has only grown. We also need to confront a virulent nationalism that, we believe, is anti-national at its core. Let me explain what I mean by that.
The Indian National Interest
Pragati’s original tagline was “the Indian national interest review.” As a libertarian who believes in the primacy of the individual, I am suspicious about any evocation of ‘national interest.’ But Pragati’s understanding of this term put me at ease. It was not based on group identity, and it did not privilege notions of collective welfare over individual rights. Instead, it held the view that the national interest lies in individual empowerment. The nation can progress only when the rights of every individual are protected. And true, sustainable progress can only arise out of individual freedom.
This is the worldview Pragati will continue to hold, and will fight for. It is quite a fight. The ‘nationalism’ that is in vogue today is based on group identity, not individual rights. It invokes emotion instead of appealing to reason, because the former is far easier to do in politics. It is populist, and reactionary. It claims to speak for the country, and labels everyone who opposes it, by extension, as anti-national. This is a dangerous view, and it must be countered.
All our political parties, despite differences of rhetorical style, have behaved almost identically in government. From Nehru to Modi, they have believed in a mai-baap government that controls the economy and dabbles in social engineering. David Boaz once said, in an American context, “Conservatives want to be your daddy, telling you what to do and what not to do. Liberals want to be your mommy, feeding you, tucking you in, and wiping your nose. Libertarians want to treat you as an adult.” Every political party in India wants to be your mommy and your daddy. At Pragati, we will fight this condescension.
That said, our focus will not be on parties and the individuals who run them, but on policies. We understand that bad governance is not a result of evil individuals being in power, but of twisted incentives within the system. Our commentary on public policy, thus, will always aim to be one level deeper than ‘This policy is bad because XYZ.’ Sometimes, because of the structure of the state, bad policy is inevitable and good policy is impossible.
We will aim to lay bare these structural defects. We will not invoke a utopia – libertarian or otherwise – and hold politicians responsible for not getting us there. Instead, we will try to propose practical solutions to real-world problems. We will be empathetic towards policy makers constrained by the compulsions of the political economy – but merciless towards flawed policy and bad ideas.
The New Pragati
This avatar of Pragati will run as an online magazine — here is a look at our team. We are not trying to compete with other online publications: our remit is not to report on stories or do journalism, but to try and throw insight on politics and economics. Here are some of the sections you can look forward to in Pragati.
This is a discussion section where we shall assemble five names every month to discuss a specific subject, and will unfold over a month, with new pieces every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Our first topic is ‘The Future of the Indian Republic.’ This one will be moderated by me, and our five panellists are Pratap Bhanu Mehta, JP Narayan, Nitin Pai, Shruti Rajagopalan and Shashi Tharoor.
Every week, we will propose one reform measure that the government should undertake, in a bullet-point format easily accessible to the layman. We’ll list out what the reform is, why it is needed, what is needed to carry it out, and what are the obstacles in its way.
Between us, Pragati team members read a lot. We’ll share our readings with you every week, in the form of pithy reviews that aim to capture enough of the essence of a book (or research paper) for you to know whether you want to check it out.
Every fortnight, we will upload a piece of historical writing that has contemporary relevance. Reading old texts, we often feel that history runs in a loop. There’s a glitch in the Matrix, as it were.
Every week, we will do a wrap of all the interesting commentary we have read through the last few days. There’s a lot of content out there – and we will scour the net looking for interesting pieces so you don’t have to. Every Monday, just for you!
And, of course, we will have regular opinion pieces by some of the sharpest minds in the business, as you would have come to expect from Pragati if you read us in the past.
That’s it for now. We will have new content every day, so do bookmark us and keep coming back. And do subscribe to the Pragati Newsletter, so even if you forget to go to the mountain, the mountain will come to you!