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Civil Society Vs. Government

BY: Devendra Pandey | Category: Politics | Submitted: 2011-08-22 05:39:48
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Article Summary: "This article discusses on various issues of confrontation between government and civil society. A case study on recent incidents in India due to the Lokpal bill..."


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The Lokpal Bill crisis has raised many questions on the relationship between civil society and the Government, the two pillars of democracy. Civil society refers to the totality of voluntary, civic and social organizations and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society as opposed to the force backed structures of a state. These institutions are important not only because they can reach where the government cannot reach, but also because they can influence the perceptions, including that of the state for better development (Webster, 1995). There is enough evidence to show the influence of these institutions in influencing the policies of the state at various levels and counter balancing the interests and actions of the state (Rajashekar, 1998).

According to Socrates, public argument through 'dialectic' was imperative to ensure 'civility' in the polis and 'good life' of the people. For Plato, the ideal state was a just society in which people dedicate themselves to the common good, practice civic virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation and justice, and perform the occupational role to which they were best suited. It was the duty of the 'Philosopher king' to look after people in civility. The Enlightenment thinkers argued that human beings are rational and can shape their destiny. Hence, no need of an absolute authority to control them. Both Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a critic of civil society, and Immanuel Kant argued that people are peace lovers and that wars are the creation of absolute regimes (Burchill 2001:33).

G.W.F. Hegel completely changed the meaning of civil society, giving rise to a modern liberal understanding of it as a form of market society as opposed to institutions of modern nation state. Hegel held that civil society had emerged at the particular period of capitalism and served its interests: individual rights and private property. For Hegel, civil society manifests contradictory forces. Being the realm of capitalist interests, there is a possibility of conflicts and inequalities within it. Therefore, the constant surveillance of the state is imperative to sustain moral order in society. Hegel considered the state as the highest form of ethical life. Therefore, the political state has the capacity and authority to correct the faults of civil society. For Marx, civil society was the 'base' where productive forces and social relations were taking place, whereas political society was the 'superstructure'. Agreeing with the link between capitalism and civil society, Marx held that the latter represents the interests of the bourgeoisie. Hence, Marx rejected the positive role of state put forth by Hegel. According to the FCRA report of the Ministry of Home Affairs, as of 2003-04 a total of 17145 associations were registered with FCRA. Apart from this, there are several associations which had prior permission. This brings the total number of associations to around 20000. Along with this increase in number, there is an increase in Government and bilateral/multilateral funding to NGOs. CAPART alone channelled around Rs.547 million to NGOs in 1993-94. It is estimated that (Robinson et al., 1993 as quoted in Murthy and Rao, 1997) roughly Rs.500 to Rs.700 million is provided annually by the Indian Government to NGOs through different institutional mechanisms. In addition to this, NGOs revenue from abroad was in the region of Rs.9 billion in 1990s. If individual and corporate donations are added, it becomes Rs.10 billion. Foreign contributions also increased from Rs.15.84 billion in 1992-93 to Rs.51.05 billion in 2002-2003. The average funds received per association has gone up from Rs.1.5 million to Rs.3.0 million during the same period. Though part of this increase is due to inflation and fall in rupee value, part of it is due to increased programme activities. Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Mahrastra are the top-five recipient states receiving Rs. 33.51 billion during 2003-04. While Delhi received 17 percent of the total contributions, Tamil Nadu received 16 percent. Though NGOs have been operational in India much before the independence, Government's recognition and decision to involve them in its efforts towards development started with the 7th five year plan (1985-90). The development NGOs were asked to supplement the Government's micro level poverty alleviation and basic needs programmes. A separate subsection on "Involvement of Voluntary Agencies" was included in the 7th Plan document under the chapter on Rural Development and Poverty Alleviation Programmes and Rs.1.0 - 1.5 billion of plan expenditure was earmarked for use in active collaboration with NGOs (Planning Commission, 1985). To assist and channel the funds for this new involvement of NGOs, the Council for Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) was established in 1986.

Political and civil society coming together
The joint committee of civil society and union ministers on Lokpal Bill was not the first of its kind. Mahatma Gandhi planned a meeting of political and constructive workers to discuss the post-independence equations between those who have entered into politics and those who were doing constructive work. After long discussion, the meeting was held at Sevagram in March 1948. The then president of Congress and the Constituent Assembly and also Union Minister for Agriculture Rajendra Prasad was foremost among people's elected representatives and Vinoba Bhave was the pre-eminent representative of the constructive workers, may be called as civil society. Jayaprakash Narayan, economic thinker JC Kumarappa, the reformer Kakasaheb Kalelkar, Ashadevi Aryanyakam, the balladeer Tukoji Maharaj, the expert on tribal affairs AV Thakkar, Mridula Sarabhai, Konda Venkatappaiya and Srikashnadas Jaju were among the participants. Jawahar Lal Nehru inauguratd the meeting and observed, 'My thoughts on all these issues are not clear and I think quite perplexed in my mind. Whenever I have managed to get a few free minutes to myself, I have thought over this year and a half that we have been in Government, and of how we have done some things but left a great deal undone...... When I look back at it all I am not happy... The Government has its own way of solving issues. It has certain limits and restraints of its own. The more power of the Government is not itself enough to solve anything. I am part of the Government. I live in Delhi. And night and day I have to live under guard. This is more of an imprisonment for me than Ahmednagar or the other jails were..." In one of the open sessions, he said, "The Congress leaders have no time for serving the people. So, other kind of people rose up between them and the people" (Gandhi 2011). Rajendra Prasad presided over this meeting and Maulana Azad made the key note speech. The all were representing the government and political fraternity but the constructive group powered the meeting with questions, suggestions, setting the agenda, identifying the issues. The meeting discussed all burning issues-terrorism, refugees, war, communalism, industry, agriculture, social service, etc. - but not corruption. Possibly that was not an issue at that time.

In fact, much talked Lokpal idea was first mooted by C D Deshmukh, the Union Finance Minister in 1950s. The then President Dr. Rajendra Prasad supported it but Jawaharlal Nehru suspected the motive of Rajendra Prasad. Then Rajendra Prasad had commented that corruption would prove to be the last nail the Congress' coffin. (Ranjan 2011). The ongoing confrontation between these two pillars of democracy on Lokpal is evidence of the view that civil society movement is matured enough and as happens in developed countries, the Government have to reconsider its decision to keep out Prime Minister, MPs and judiciary from the ambit of Lokpal.
(The author teaches rural management in MGCG University, Chitrakoot, MP)

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