The genesis of Forum of Free Enterprise lay in two separate articles on Free Enterprise, both appearingin the issue of Times of India dated 31st March 1956;one being “Free Enterprise in India”by A.D. Shroff; and the other, “Free Enterprise and Freedom” by Murarji J. Vaidya. The central theme of the two articles wassimilar, pleading for an appropriate and increasing rolefor the private sector in the economic development of the country, and, more importantly, the need to protect free enterprise in India. A.D. Shroff’s article also articulated the relevant organizational framework toprotect, promote and project free enterprise in order to highlight its role in India’s democratic structure.
On the day the two articles appeared, Mr. Farrokh S.Mulla, the head of Public Relations Department of TataGroup, congratulated Mr. A.D. Shroff on the latter’sincisive article and even offered his help in setting up an organization to preserve and promote the cause of free enterprise. This enthused Mr. A.D. Shroff and the two of them later met on the same day and discussed about establishing the organization. They also called upon Mr. Murarji J. Vaidya and decided to take the idea forward. This led to the three of them – Mr. A.D. Shroff, Mr. Murarji Vaidya and Mr. F.S. Mulla – networking with a few like-minded persons, all of whom were enthusiastic about the proposition.
A series of meetings took place over those eventfulmonths of 1956. Several friends in other cities were alsocontacted and most of them spontaneously supportedthe idea.
After several rounds of serious discussions, it wasdecided that the organization be set up under the name:Forum of Free Enterprise. The Founding members, who also formed Forum’s first Council of Management were:
Forum of Free Enterprise was, thus, formally launchedon 18th July 1956, at a well-attended function at theGateway Room, Taj, Bombay (now Mumbai).
A couple of weeks before the Forum was formally launched, Mr. M.R. Pai, then 25 years of age was interviewedand chosen to head the Forum’s Secretariat. He joined the Forum in June 1956 and was its Secretary till 1976, when he resigned. He was then elected an Honorary Vice-President of the Forum, which position he held with distinction till he passed away on 3rd July 2003. His contribution to the organization was very significant, and he was truly one of the builders of the organization.
Right since its inception, the main objective of the Forum is to educate and create awareness among thepublic on economic affairs and economic policies. And in the very early stages the print media gave immense publicity, thereby, the public instantly noticed the birth of a new organization. It’s Founder-President, Mr. A.D. Shroff, already well-known in the banking and financial sector, was also a highly respected public figure. He was also one of the eight authors of the famous Bombay Plan.
FORUM’S EVOLUTION SINCE FORMATIVE YEARS
In the formative stages of the Forum, the founding fathers increasingly came to realize the growing ineffectiveness of political parties in articulating the cause of liberal economic thinking and free market economy in India, and critically analyzing and educating the people about the flaws in the Government’s economic thinking and policies. Even the voice of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry was subdued, and they are spokesmen probably sought to judiciously refrain from actively opposing the Government’s economic policies. The overwhelming majority of the Congress Party in the Parliament, together with the dominance of charismatic first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on India’s political firmament, virtually stifled the articulation of a contrarian view on economic policies.
This incredible apathy was deeply entrenched even inthe midst of many powerful and radical policy changes such as nationalization of Imperial Bank in 1953; nationalization oflife insurance business and the setting of Life Insurance Corporation of India in 1956; a sharp shift towards commanding heights of the public sector in the Second and Third Plans; and so on. While capturing the essence of the policy ethos of those early years, a noted journalist of those times, Mr. R.V. Murthy, succinctly observed
“unfortunately for the country, ata time when everyone had to strive his or her best toraise the prestige of the country, political ideologies, notconsistent with the genius of the country, nor conduciveto its economic growth, began slowly to creep in andpeople began to think not in the interest of the countryas a whole, but in their own (class) sectional or vested interests, if not ideologies.”
It was such indifference and ineptitude of the political opposition, intellectuals, media as well as of representative bodies of business and industry, which became a powerful motivation for the
Forum to fill the vacuum in the sphere of objective evaluation of Government’s economic policies and to enlightenpublic debate on crucial importance of liberal economic thinking and free enterprise system. There was hardly any other known agency or institution to educate thepeople about the damaging and often devastatingimplications of Government’s then economic philosophyand policies.
Thus, the Forum has since inception taken upon itself the cause of unveiling and advocating the alternative of liberal economic thinking and free enterprise to deal withcountry’s pressing challenges of economic progress, massive illiteracy, poverty and unemployment
Equally importantly, the founding fathers, and in particular its President Mr. A.D. Shroff, having travelled extensively, both in India and abroad, were confident and convinced about unlimited potentialities of the Indian economy after the country became free. They were convinced – and some of them being proven businessmen – and were confident that Indian private
enterprises had all the wherewithal, talent, the capacity and the vision to hold their own against those of many other nations. Their achievements of the last over four decades, and especially since 1991 bear adequate testimony of their inbuilt entrepreneurial confidence. They also did envision a huge potential of leadership qualities of Indian youth, even as they were proclaiming the soundness of their philosophical and practical stance towards free enterprise system, especially itsappeal to a large rational and right-minded educated middle-class.
In substance, the sequence of events of early fifties formed the basis for designing and determining the scope and span of Forum’s activities, which in fact have evolved over the years, based on the needs of changing times and its own learning. The avowed objective has been to give impetus to advocating, protecting and promoting liberal economic thinking and imperatives of private enterprise and free markets. The Forum was always confident of the eventful success of its efforts. Thus, in its Annual Report of 1963-64 (i.e., even before the completion of a decade of its existence), theFounder-President Mr. A.D. Shroff observed
“the trend of public thinking in the country encourages us to hopethat it will not be long before our work bears fruit by wayof a change in the economic policy suitable for individualfree enterprise in the service of the nation.”
Two years later, the then President Mr. Murarji J. Vaidya stated that
“multifarious activities of the Forum were kept up in a steady and sustained manner during 1965-66. The change in Government and public thinkingon such matters as decontrol, rationalization of tax structure and the need for greater scope for private initiative and enterprise were indications of the growing impact of Forum’s work on governmental authorities and the public.”
The legendary Mr. Nani Palkhivala, President of the Forum during 1968-2000, writing in 1987, bemoaned the state of the Indian economy and society:
“Our brand of socialism for the past decades has not resulted in transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor but only from the honest rich to the dishonestrich. If the wrong type of socialism again becomes the national policy, we may continue to dream of a higher standard of living but will never manage to underwrite our dream in terms of output. No amount of slogan- mongering or munificent promises can get over the first law of economics – you cannot divide more than you can produce. Any economic policy which on ideological grounds prevents the full development of the nation’s potential constitutes a crime against the nation.”
Mr. Palkhivala further wrote:
“After four decades of independence, the picture that emerges is that of a nation potentially great but in a state of moral decay. We suffer from a fatty degeneration of conscience and an unchecked dissolution of values. Thisis manifested in a variety of ways – corruption, violenceand indiscipline, mobocracy in place of democracy andtotal lack of sense of honour and public decency.”
However, the fact remains that it required almost another quarter century of dogged perseverance forthe Forum to see some substantive fruits of its efforts in the eventual ushering in of economic liberalization in July 1991. The last twenty-five years of economic liberalization offers immense service of intellectual andemotional satisfaction – a sense of some degree of fulfilment of its objectives. However, the Forum’s vision-mission programme invariably will be enduring for years to come.
DIRECTION AND THRUST OF FORUM
The core objective has been to ensure that the free enterprise system envisaged by the
founders of the Forum becomes a truly constructive model capable of delivering rapid and
large-scale economic development of the country within a vibrant democratic framework.
At the same time, over the years numerous activities of the Forum have come to assume some
implicit strategic framework with the following main thrust:
- Education: moulding and creating informed public opinion;
- Leadership: creating responsible and good citizenship through youth activities;
- Governance: promoting value-based, transparent Systems and structures, including Code of Conduct for the private sector;
- Professionalism in business: facilitating the creation of a cadre of competent and trained
professionals for business and industry, especially in the areas of corporate management,
taxation and financial services; and
- Institution building and support: several educational institutions, public service organizations and NGOs in Mumbai and other cities have been regularly approaching the Forum for help and guidance in arranging programs and meetings, including for identifying suitable
EDUCATING AND MOULDING OF PUBLIC OPINION
Surely, Forum can claim to be among the firsts to organize public meetings with a view to educating the public and creating informed public opinion on the failures of Government’s economic policies. These meetings have led to building of sustained pressures on the Government to rationalize and reform its economic policies. While pursuing this core objective on a sustained basis, the Forum has harnessed and deployed extensively its intellectual and
organizational resources in publication of booklets and articles in the press; and arranging public meetings and memorial lectures. The Forum has invariably sought to lay emphasis not in terms of the quantitative spread of its activities, but on the qualitative depth and impact of all its endeavours.