“You’ll Always be in my Heart”
Farewells are always an occasion for stocktaking, looking back and contemplating: I will summarize my sentiments in one sentence: India has been good to us. I will not spend time with my – happy – private life, just two mentions: the recent graduation of our one and only son Otto Meinardus here in Delhi has been an unforgettable highlight. I admire his perseverance and discipline and am very grateful to Helga, my beloved wife and a fantastic mother at that.
Work wise, the past five years have been busy (at times very busy). But at the same time highly stimulating and educative, full of learnings.
India has fortified my liberal conviction that democracy is the best form of governance to preserve peace and stability in diverse societies and, equally important, that market liberalization is the most suitable strategy to lift the poor out of their misery.
Promoting liberalism is the core agenda of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. This is a challenging endeavour – and the problems often start with agreeing on a definition on what we are actually talking about.
There exists not one definition of liberalism but a set of variants dependant on the political, economic, social and cultural conditions we are relating to. Unlike other political mainstreams, liberalism is not a closed set of ideological principles and values. We should not mistake this openness to debate, dissent and diversity as randomness. Liberals – and these are the non-negotiables – are of one mind regarding the primacy of the freedom of every individual, they strive for the equality of opportunity, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
This brings me to the book the launch of which we have assembled to celebrate tonight.
How Liberal is India? This is a question of interest for political and economic analysts, but more importantly for all those concerned about individual freedom in the land. On a personal note, this question has puzzled me from the first moment I set foot some five years ago.
I am grateful that now that I am packing my belongings to move on to a new assignment, I have come closer to an answer.
I am deeply grateful to the 17 co-authors who have joined in this collective effort to analyse and describe the status of liberalism in India. All writers are experts in their fields – and importantly – all have associated with programs of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Their writings provide original insights into areas important to liberal governance. Taken together the chapters provide a conclusive perspective on the state of liberalism in the biggest democracy on earth.
What, you will ask, is this perspective? In the concluding chapter I offer a summary based on India’s performance in international governance surveys – well-known ratings and rankings like Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Report, the World Press Freedom Index, the World Bank’s Governance Indicators, the Economic Freedom of the World Report and Doing Business Index.
In short, these surveys argue that India, in the more recent past, has become more liberal economically, and less liberal politically.
This would not be India – or a book reflecting Indian debates – if we would leave it at that.
The book, which I invite you to read, share with your followers, review, buy and give to friends, concludes with an open end:
“In the end, the answer to the overriding query will remain ambiguous – and subjective. Just like so many things in this incredible country”. Full stop!
Not quite. I need to get personal before I ask the co-authors to join me on the stage.
Looking back at the past five years, I feel blessed that bidding farewell to you and India is so hard. I will repeat what I have heard more than once these recent days: Good friends never say good-bye, they would rather say: See you again soon. Or, as the greatest of all Indians has said: There are no goodbyes, wherever you’ll be you’ll be in my heart.
Thank you for your support and friendship: May God bless you all.