Mahatma Gandhi Epitomised all that a Civil Society Activist Should be

It is the sheer power of a Civil Society activist’s personality, credibility integrity, objectivity, and persuasiveness that leads to recognition, respect and appreciation and not the loudness of his voice, nor the public outcry in the wake of that noise, be it from the crowds that follow or the media exposure. There can no better example of this than Mahatma Gandhi himself who epitomised all these traits and commanded the influence that no CS representative has to date in this country or elsewhere.

By Rao VBJ Chelikani 

I Authenticity of an Activist

i). Benefit of Self-Doubt:

a). Civil society (CS), is but only one of the public actors in the pluralist society that we live in. Some of the CS institutions might not have wholesome vision for the entire society and might be concerned with only some aspects and some problems in the society. They are also likely to ventilate their own value systems or prejudices along with their genuine concerns. They might not exercise their capacity to analyse objectively due to their strong passions. They are also likely to be confused about the causes and consequences of what is happening around themselves or to themselves. We tend to be subjective by virtue of our own heritage, upbringing, education or social background. An attitudinal reflex of fearing the new and opposing all changes is a possibility with advancing age for everybody, just as much as the youth among them being more impatient and unsparing for slow changes. They are also a part of the same piece of cloth or the ‘than’ of the contemporary social fabric that we are all made of.

Yet, the certitude of his truth is the biggest weakness of a passionate activist. Who knows the final Truth? Is everything said, written, printed or shown by an activist is valid, true and acceptable? Obviously, the answer is no. However, since there is, certainly, no hidden universe as such, of the non-profit organizations, the activist deserves to be respected and heard.

b). In our democratic societies, usually, the elected representatives take decisions in the form of a compromise, after taking into account many contradictory interests or claims that impose themselves upon the decision makers. Certainly, an activist is in a more comfortable position than a representative in terms of freedom and choices of action. Hence, the activist should have the virtue of self-doubt, which is not possible for a political representative. Civil society activists should not, therefore, a priori, become intolerant of others’ decisions and acts.
The civil society activist has the opportunity for self-doubt, which is not possible for a political representative. The former should not, therefore, a priori, become intolerant of others’ decisions and acts.

c). The CS activist does not take decisions in the place of those who are selected or elected to take decisions, whether they are good, bad or indifferent. They are not there to replace the present representatives (rep) and govern in their place, since they have neither legal nor moral mandate to do so. The whole spirit of the CS activism is based on the assumption that they are personally disinterested and have a passion for the common good. If an activist wants to act in the place of a rep, it would mean that he would be manipulating public affairs to satisfy his own hunger for power. Such an activist should then go before the public as a candidate and come through the electoral process like anybody else to power. There is nothing wrong in a CS activist moving a step ahead and jumping into electoral politics. It means he does not want to limit himself to propose and influence those who make changes but wants to make changes himself. However, this should not be considered as a logical step of CS activism; on the contrary, it would be a clear sign of confessing one’s resignation. In any case, there would, always, be some people who would be using the CS platform for playing politics.
There is nothing wrong with the desire of a CS Activist to jump into electoral politics per se as it may be construed as a yearning to extend their impact beyond just influencing to actual decision-making. However, this should not be considered as a logical step of CS activism; on the contrary, it would be a clear sign of confessing one’s resignation.  

ii). The Need for Self-Assertion: Yet, the present Indian conditions demand an assertive CS activism, as the political class is abusing its power. Legislatures are not functioning well. Bureaucracy is crushing the society. We are not progressing fast enough towards economic, social and cultural democracy. Consequently, we are not able to improve human relations. What shall we do as CS activists and organisations? Shall we form another party? Shall we be the candidates ourselves in the next elections? Or, shall we turn violent against all political hypocrisy, abuse and corruption? Shall we blame the public for their wrong choice of such reps? How else can we put the public actors before their responsibilities and make them act?  A civil society activist and his organisation would be failing their duty, if they do not act.

II Trends for Tomorrow                

The phenomenon of the civil society activism has come to stay as a permanent feature of the overall governance scenario in the country, though it is not as significant as it is in the developed world. Since the political governments are, always, far more pre-occupied by the term-bound strategies for re-election, the civil societies can afford to view even immediate issues from a long term perspectives. The American society and the economy have been progressing very well, in spite of the fact that the enthusiastic politicians come and go, precisely, because of the fact that voluntary associations and foundations conceive, plan, build and operate innumerable projects in the long term interest of the entire country. The influence that NGOs wield has been increasing concurrently with the increase in human aspirations. If it were not for the NGOs, many democratic and progressive legislation, many environmental issues, many social and administrative reforms might not have seen light of the day.

  1. It is time, now, to look beyond in order to set new inter-related goals, such as human rights, consumer movement, globalisation, social and cultural development, human development, peace-making and peace-building within and among various communities.

  2. In the past, very few Indian NGOs could become international for accomplishing global tasks with their head-quarters in Indian cities. Now, many think tanks on development strategies are flourishing, funded by both foreign and Indian institutions and governments. For example, there is a good net-working among the institutions of Yoga across the world. The Indian diaspora has been providing the link with the outside world. The international exchanges among the students, academicians, scientists, artists and other professionals have to be intensified multi-fold.

  • Further Democratisation: Just as any other social institution in the country, the CS organisations are also being subjected to further democratisation. Since the right to form an association is recognised by the Constitution, people are encouraged to know how to organise themselves in all their social initiatives. A number of individuals can come together to form an organised group in order to promote their ideas or projects. It should be possible for the foreigners too to do the same. At present, the model rules proposed in the Act and its Regulations are too rigid. It is insisted that there should be, at least, 7 members minimum. Though registration and recording of changes have been, initially, simplified in some states, later on, the bureaucratic intervention and hassles have been re-imposed.

The internal functioning of an association is being slowly modernised with the presence of middle class people who are, otherwise, professionals in different walks of life. More managerial efficiency, transparency and accountability are being demonstrated. Since it is, often, the passion and the vision of an individual or a few of them that create an association, the personal impact of the founders is, usually, very strong on it. After a change of guard, often the associations lose their vitality and productivity. There used to be less of rotation and more hierarchy among the office-bearers. In some cases, it was not un-usual to observe internal power struggle and even resorting to the judicial intervention. Hence, it is always good to encourage the formation of new associations with new people and new ideas.
The influence that NGOs wield has been increasing concurrently with the increase in human aspirations. If it were not for the NGOs, many democratic and progressive legislation, many environmental issues, many social and administrative reforms might not have seen light of the day.

  1. Relations with the Departments:

    1. There is an urgent need for the NGOs to form themselves into multi-disciplinary federations, both at national, state and district levels and to have periodical consultative meetings among themselves, while retaining their own autonomy.

    2. The governmental departments have been very shy of cultivating regular consultations with the NGOs of competence in their domain, though the departments dealing with social welfare, rural development, education and labour have been maintaining longstanding relations. The governments in India also have not been very keen to evolve any structured and regular policy and operational consultative mechanisms at local, state and national levels. In fact, in the past, the Planning Commission itself was serving as a platform for consultations as well as for the coordination of diverse activities. Now, the Ministry of Rural Development has been chosen by the GOI to frame the guidelines for the accreditation of NGOs, particularly for receiving grants, instead of the Ministry of Municipal Administration and Urban Development, which should have taken the lead, as most of them are based in the cities. Recently, NITI Aayog has been appointed as the nodal agency for the purposes of their registration and accreditation for seeking funding from the GOI. It is also tasked with maintaining of database systems to manage and disseminate information relating to NGOs and other voluntary organisations. The existing portal at NITI Aayog (NGO-Darpan) can be strengthened in cooperation with the NGO networks.

  1. Towards Social Economy: Further, their philosophy has been changing; It is no more charity and poor-feeding activity. Their direct and immediate collaboration with the private sector is the need of the hour to promote inclusive economic growth, so as to eradicate absolute poverty, which remains their priority. In the long term, specialised organisations have to work for socialising the entire economy, including both private sector and public sectors. In a closely-knit economic growth, what would be important is not to know whether one is working for profit or not, but whether both the individual and the whole society are being, at the same time, enriched or not. Some NGOs are already working for economic empowerment, inclusive growth, solidarity and social security. Armed with good quality information and objective analysis, they are developing analytical models, which are being, sometimes, used by the political parties.

  2. Another category of social actors: They are the professional associations of the trade unions, domestic workers, auto-drivers, lawyers, doctors, auditors and resident welfare associations, etc., which facilitate first better governance among themselves. They should fight for direct representation in the legislatures, particularly, in the legislative councils, so that they can participate in policy-making, without politics.

  • Good Cooperation with the Judiciary: The extra-ordinary sagacity of the Indian judiciary in upholding democratic norms and their support to the civil society organisations by admitting Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and by providing Writ jurisdiction has been a well-known fact in the world. They are to be extensively used in order to fill up the legislative deficiencies and to prevent executive excesses.

  • Local governance in urban areas at municipal ward level is supposed to involve local civil society organizations in the states of A.P. and Telangana, and, probably, in several other states also. The local organisations have to propose the candidates to form the ward committees and hold the area Sabhas in each ward. The resident welfare associations are emerging as the fourth-tier of governance involving both their vertical and horizontal associations for promoting micro-urban communities and for local development. These associations are ‘mini-governments’.

  1. Social Media and Direct Communications: The traditional electronic as well as print media devote time and space to the NGOs only when they touch matters that affect politicians; otherwise, they do not recognize the CS organisations as independent actors in the society. The NGOs are not any more depending upon them for forming their own views on men and matters or to communicate the same to the public. They became an alternative media, thanks to new technologies of communications and the ‘social media’. They are further able to expand their spheres of direct participation in the life of the society, without passing through the traditional media.  Every citizen has got channels to become an activist.

It is not because of the loudness of his voice, nor his castigating vehemence, nor the public uproar provoked, nor the coverage by the media, but because of his personality, credibility, integrity, objectivity, disinterestedness and persuasiveness, that a civil society activist is recognized, respected and appreciated. We can give no better model than Gandhi to represent and inspire such an activist.

Post a Comment