An Agenda for Civil Society Action in Our Democracy

 Rao VBJ Chelikan

        The present Government is intentionally throwing away the baby along with the bath water. Ignoring the indispensable role and place of the civil society organisations in a democracy, as it is visible in advanced liberal democracies, there is a clear tendency on the part of the Government to change the rules of the game, constantly, so as not to allow the Indian citizens to enjoy their constitutional right to freely form associations and to operate them efficiently. The present authorities are unable to see the role the NGOs can play to foster better international exchanges and cooperation. This attitude is further against the spirit of the International Humanitarian laws.

            However, nobody would deny the duty of a government to efficiently prevent, weed out and to punish all abuses of all kinds by the NGOs, whenever and wherever they take place. No doubt, it is also true that there are some NGO which are making use of foreign money for religious propaganda and conversions. But, still, the governmental reactions and measures are authoritarian and detrimental to the growth of democracy in the country.

            In the present political context inside the country, the civil societies have a crucial role to play, as the traditional press and visual media is too much obsessed with the political parties and the political parties are too much obsessed with the capturing power. Since the political parties are not opposing the ruling party with ‘loyalty’ to democratic values, it falls upon the civil associations to provide positive and constructive criticism and genuine democratic opposition to any authoritarian rule of the political parties, and comments and suggestions against the rules of the over-zealous bureaucracy. This is not a new mission, if we remember the fact that we fought for independence as movements, campaigns, ashrams and associations, rather than as political parties. We should not forget the fact that for three decades in the 60s, 70s and 80s, we have continuously received billions of rupees of aid from the civil societies of the western liberal democracies. Historically also, ancient India had been a society of several professional and occupational informal associations, rather than of ever-interfering monarchies.

        Probably, the time has come to review and to redefine their role in society, not only in polity. Some measures can be taken up. We should help them 

i) to draft a Charter of Rights and Duties as well as facilitate

ii) their forming platforms for ‘internal cleansing’ and

iii) for observance of ethical and democratic norms in public criticism. May be the present crisis might propel them to come together, as it never happened in the past

 iv) to form a ‘pressure-group’ along with the professional associations in order to facilitate their ‘ease of living’ and ‘ease of doing business’, which the authorities are luckily willing to discuss.

            Further, in the place of current resistance, there is a need for v) encouraging and supporting the Indian NGOs to collaborate in the people-to-people international cooperation, as it is being done by Germany, Japan and the USA and other big aid-giving countries. It will be cheaper, direct, efficient and lasting, than the present practice of depending entirely on diplomatic negotiations and exchanges among the political authorities in power. India has also started giving aid in the Chinese style to the developing countries that make declarations echoing India’s concerns. But, International aid and solidarity as expressed from state-to-state has proved to be a total failure, since it took place among the diplomats and politicians and is not reaching the people. In the current situation in Afghanistan, for example, India could have provided relief, long time ago, to those suffering people and gained their genuine sympathy, had it channeled the aid through Indian NGOs like Red Cross, Red Crescent and Ramakrishna Mission, or any other pro-governmental or pro-ruling party NGO.

        It is time that the governments and the bureaucracy in India are made to understand and accept that they cannot do everything and every time, anymore, as their philosophy of total governance, which would only result in more delays, wastage and corruption. Would we want to become another China? After so many years of Republican life in the country, the Indian state should not think and act as guardian of its minor children. There are two contradictory trends that are taking place in our governance: It is the phenomenon of the 21st century that the individual is being empowered unfettered, in leaps and bounds, in knowledge, social vision and in his capacity to act directly. Now, the citizens are capable of assuming more responsibilities and act more efficiently by more direct participation. On the other hand, our politicians are vying with each other to ‘infantilise’ the voters in the sense that they treat the citizens as a mother would treat her children. They promise to provide everything without asking for it.

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