Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How can we improve the public sector enterprises in Kerala?

 John Samuel

Following are the few of the recommendations  that I made in the session to improve the public sector enterprises, at the 4th International Congress of the Kerala Studies, held at AKG Centre, Trivandrum on 9-10 January, 2016

1)Make  a clear distinction between public sector companies involved in delivering essential services like water, electricity and public transport and  other state-owned enterprises designed to operate in the market place competing with other private actors. We also need to make distinction between sectors with government monopoly ( eg Kerala state beverages corporation ) and those enterprises that will face still competition from private actors in india and elsewhere.

Such a clear distinction is important for a clear strategy development to revitalise each of those enterprises to add value and make profit. As of now the loss is calculated mixing all these into one basket giving a very distorted picture to various stakeholders and public.

2) It is imported to re conceptualise these as peoples's enterprises rather than government owned enterprises as the predominant image is that bureaucratic establishments in partnership with a political elites attached with dominant political party formations. It is due to this approach that almost all such enterprises are 'administered '( rather than managed) by typical status quoits bureaucrats rather than professionally trained managerial leaders with domain knowledge and marketing capability. Hence, there has to be moratorium to point typical IAS/IPS officers without any domain knowledge or management aptitude or to accommodate the cronies of respective ministers or the party. It is this 'administrative' , 'accommodative'  and adhoc approach that derailed most of these enterprises. This also resulted in corruption at all levels and a work culture devoid of any sense of accountability and transparency. Hence there is need for a paradigm shift at political , policy, governance , management and operational level to revitalise, sustain and make them profitable enterprises with a collective sense of ownership.

3) A strategic analysis of each of the enterprises need to be done and then decide the principles of capacity, market viability and adaptation to changing context of competition and market dynamics.

4)  initiate  a  multi-stakeholder discussion at each of the enterprises by taking all the employees and trade unions in to confidence. Such multi-stakeholder discussions should also involve management experts, governance experts, and also people with direct domain knowledge of the  specific product and the niche market for such a product. Each of the companies can develop a viable revitalisation plan considering all prose and cons.

5) Create  a special vehicle to attract new funding through new investments from NRI workers and small entrepreneurs from the GCC  and other countries.

5) Public  sector for essential services may be restructured to make then optimally efficient and economically viable, rather profit motive alone. However, other enterprises  designed to compete in the market place must have profit generation motive and they must be fully managed by professionally competent managers.

7) It is important to develop a broader social and political consensus about the political economy rationale of revitalising and sustaining such enterprises and boost people's confidence as the entire media discourse is that government should sell off all these to private actors, in consonance with neo-liberal   sort of 'constructed' 'common sense'. It is also important take the trade unions in to confidence about the need to take a long term perspective rather than a very narrow immediate interest perspective.

8) I think it is important to take a principled as well as pragmatic view on each of the public sector enterprises. The key challenge is that all of them are bogged down in operational baggages and cumulative mismanagement and a non-accountable work culture. This operational preoccupation and the cumulative politicisation of all aspects ( from appointment to purchase to management to governance to marketing ) have a debilitating effect and also play major hinderance to creative and strategic approach to the SOEs.

Without a broader political , policy and social consensus , there is a danger that  there will be a broad discourse ( driven by neoliberal agenda) to sell them off.
So we need a specific detailed  strategic approach for each of the companies, a broader policy and governance approach and a  consistent  advocacy at various levels

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cry my beloved world!

Blood screaming today in Paris
Yesterday in Beirut
In the hinterlands of Syria
In the antique lands of Babylon
In Mesopotamia
In the land of Pharos
On the mountains of Sinai
Blood screaming loud
Day before in Mumbai
New York
In Kabul and Karachi
In Nigeria and Norway
And everywhere.
Blood screaming from the streets
hatred splash blood.
In the dark labyrinths
of agonies and anger
The pools of blood,
the stench of the dead
In Paris, Beirute,
Mumbai, Ahemdabad, Delhi and Dadri.
The coloure and creed of hate
keep changing
in search of imagined heaven or pure countries.
By lynching, shooting, burning or bombing
In the name of God, freedom or patriotism.
Guns get made everyday
In all sizes and shapes
Well designed to play in blood
Quickly and swiftly
In unspeakable rage of imagined revenge
In schools and streets
In barren landscape of conscience
Guns of muscle and money
In factories for 'security'
Guns that burn the hearts and minds
Bombs of Bush
Never brought freedom
Mutated in to macabre of hate
In dark webs
in search of fresh blood
The weapons of mass destruction
In the injured minds everywhere
Angrily in search of imagined enemies
Blooming in to flames of hell
Seeking heaven in the mutilated bodies
Of the 'other'
Promising freedom, and evoking fear
Promising security , evoking insecurity
In the marshy lands of mistrust
Seeking enemies , infidels and the 'other'
Everyday everywhere
In the name of God,
In the name colour
In the name of a country
In the name of doctrines
In the name of cow
In the name of a flag!
Processions of coffins
Of children, young, old , and dreams
In the graveyard of poetry and politics
In the lonely despair of night
I took the world in to my lap
Touched every city,
Every country, continents and streets
Everywhere it pains
In a feverish anguish
Of children in the millions of wombs
Waiting be born in to a planet of fear,
Everywhere it pains
Tears in the graveyard of dear ones.
Everywhere it pains.
We shall overcome someday,
the fear with love and hope
We shall wait for the truth to replace untruths
We shall wait for light to erase darkness
We shall wait for the real to remove the unreal
We shall wait for life to remove the dead-minds
We shall wait eternally for love to erase our fear
Ohm Shanti, Shanti, shanti

Friday, October 16, 2015

ബഹുസ്വരതയെ ഇല്ലായ്മ ചെയ്യാനുള്ള ശ്രമം -

ജെ എസ് അടൂർ (ജോൺ സാമുവൽ)
ന്ത്യ എന്ന ആശയത്തിന്റെ കാതൽ ഭാഷയുടെയും മതാനുഷ്ഠാനങ്ങളുടെയും വസ്ത്രത്തിനും ആഹാരത്തിനുമുള്ള നിർണ്ണയാവകാശങ്ങളുടെയും വൈവിധ്യവും ബഹുസ്വരതയുമാണ് . ഇതിനൊക്കെയുള്ള സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യം കിട്ടിയതോകോളനിവത്കരണത്തിനും വിവേചനത്തിനും മറ്റെല്ലാ ഭീതികൾക്കും അരക്ഷിതാവസ്ഥയ്ക്കും എതിരെയുള്ള പോരാട്ടത്തിലൂടെയും. ഫാസിസത്തിനും ഹിന്ദുത്വം എന്ന മറ യ്ക്കുള്ളിൽ പൊതിഞ്ഞ ബ്രാഹ്മണ (അധീശത്വ) നിക്ഷിപ്ത താല്പര്യങ്ങളുടെ തീവ്രവിഭാഗീയ രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിനും എതിരെയുള്ള സമരത്തിൽ നിന്നും ഉരുത്തിരിഞ്ഞ രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിന്റെ ഫലമായാണ്‌ ഇന്ത്യൻ ഭരണഘടന ഉയർന്നു വന്നത്. ഹിന്ദുത്വത്തിന്റെ ചരിത്രത്തിലേക്ക് നോക്കിയാൽ ഈ മുഴുവൻ രാഷ്ട്രീയ ചർച്ചയും ഒരു ചെറിയ ന്യൂനപക്ഷമായ ബ്രാഹ്മണ ശൃംഖലയുടെ മേധാവിത്വത്തിനും മതത്തിന്റെ പേരിലുള്ള വിഭാഗീയ സ്വത്വരാഷ്ട്രീയം ഉയർത്തിക്കാട്ടി അധീശത്വം ഉറപ്പിക്കാനുമുളളതായിരുന്നു എന്നത് നമുക്ക് സ്പഷ്ടമായി തന്നെ കാണാവുന്നതാണ്. 'ഹിന്ദുത്വ ദേശീയത'എന്ന അവകാശവാദതിനപ്പുറംസംഘപരിവാർആർ എസ് എസ്ഹിന്ദുമഹാസഭ തുടങ്ങിയവയുടെയെല്ലാം മാതൃത്വം ഒന്നോ രണ്ടോ ചെറിയ സംസ്ഥാനങ്ങളിലും ചുരുക്കം ചില ചെറു പട്ടണങ്ങളിലും നിന്നുള്ള വളരെ ചെറിയ ബ്രാഹ്മണവിഭാഗത്തിന്റെ അധീശത്വം ആണെന്നതാണ് സത്യം. അവരെല്ലാം തന്നെ മനുഷ്യാവകാശങ്ങളെയും സാമൂഹ്യ നീതിയെയും എല്ലാ ജനങ്ങൾക്കുമുള്ള തുല്യ സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യത്തെയും പൂർണമായും എതിർക്കുന്നവരുമായിരുന്നു. സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യസമര കാലത്തും അവർ കൊളോണിയലിസ്റ്റുകളെ എതിർക്കുകയോ സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യവും മനുഷ്യാവകാശങ്ങളും അടിസ്ഥാനമാക്കിയുള്ള ജനാധിപത്യം എന്ന ആശയത്തെ പിന്താങ്ങുകയോ ചെയ്തിട്ടില്ല. 
ഇക്കഴിഞ്ഞ 30 വർഷക്കാലയളവിൽ സാമ്പത്തികതലത്തിലും രാഷ്ട്രീയതലത്തിലും ഉദ്യോഗസ്ഥതലത്തിലുമുള്ള വരേണ്യ വിഭാഗങ്ങൾക്കിടയിൽ ഒരു പുതിയ ബാന്ധവം രൂപപ്പെട്ടിട്ടുണ്ട്. പൊതുമാധ്യമങ്ങൾ ജനാധിപത്യത്തിന്റെ പേരിൽ മേൽപ്പറഞ്ഞ വിഭാഗത്തിന്റെ താല്പര്യങ്ങളെയാണ് വർദ്ധിച്ച തോതിൽ സംരക്ഷിക്കുന്നതും . ഇന്ത്യയുടെ സാമ്പത്തിക വളർച്ചയും പ്രധാനമായി നഗര കേന്ദ്രീകൃതവും നഗരങ്ങളിലെ സവർണ്ണർക്കും ഇടത്തരം ധനികർക്കും പ്രയോജനപ്രദവുമാകുന്നതുമാണ്. ആയതിനാൽ, 'സാമ്പത്തികവളർച്ചയ്ക്കൊപ്പമുള്ള വികസനംഅല്ലെങ്കിൽ 'ഇന്ത്യ തിളങ്ങുന്നുഎന്നിവയെല്ലാം തന്നെ വെറും 8ശതമാനത്തിൽ താഴെ മാത്രം വരുന്ന വരേണ്യ ജാതികൾക്കും വിഭാഗങ്ങൾക്കും വേണ്ടിയുള്ളവയാണ്. ഈ 'വരേണ്യാധീശത്വപൊതുസമ്മതിയാണ് പ്രഘോഷണങ്ങളിലൂടെയും മുദ്രാവാക്യങ്ങളിലൂടെയുംഭൂരിഭാഗം വരുന്ന ഇന്ത്യക്കാരെയും ഉൾക്കൊള്ളിച്ചുളള  വികസനത്തിനു പകരംനടപ്പാക്കിവരുന്നത്. എന്നാൽ സ്ഥിതിവിവരക്കണക്കുകൾ മറ്റൊരു കഥയാണ് പറയുന്നത്. 77% ഇന്ത്യക്കാർ ഒരു ദിവസം $2 ൽ താഴെ ചിലവാക്കിയാണ് ജീവിക്കുന്നത്. 276 ദശലക്ഷം പേർ ഒരു ദിവസം $ 1.25 ൽ താഴെ വരുമാനത്തിൽ ജീവിക്കുന്നു (പരമദാരിദ്ര്യത്തിന്റെ അളവുകോൽ).10.69 കോടി കുടുംബങ്ങൾക്ക് നിഷേധിക്കപ്പെട്ടിരിക്കുന്നു. ഗ്രാമീണ ഇന്ത്യയിലെ 1 /3 കുടുംബങ്ങളും ഭൂരഹിതരാണ്. ദരിദ്രരും പാർശ്വവത്കരിക്കപ്പെട്ടവരുമായ ഭൂരിഭാഗവും ദളിതരുംആദിവാസികളും,  ഗ്രാമീണരും ന്യൂനപക്ഷങ്ങളുമാണ്. പക്ഷെ ഈ അപഹരണത്തിന്റെയും പാർശ്വവത്കരണത്തിന്റെയും ദാരിദ്ര്യത്തിന്റെയും യഥാർത്ഥ്യം കആക്രമണോന്മുഖമായ  മാധ്യമ പ്രചാരണങ്ങളിലൂടെയും ചതിയിലും കള്ളത്തിലും പൊതിഞ്ഞ പ്രഘോഷണങ്ങളിലൂടെയും മറച്ചുവയ്ക്കുകയാണ് ചെയ്യുന്നത്. കഴിഞ്ഞ 40 വർഷക്കാലത്തിനിടയിൽ നല്ലൊരു ശതമാനം രാഷ്ട്രീയകക്ഷികളും അരാഷ്ട്രീയവൽക്കരിക്കപ്പെടുകയും 100 താഴെ വരുന്ന ചില കുടുംബങ്ങളുടെ സംരംഭങ്ങളായി മാറുകയും ചെയ്തതോടെ അഴിമതി മുഖ്യധാരാകക്ഷി രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിന്റെ പര്യായമായി മാറിക്കഴിഞ്ഞു. കഴിഞ്ഞ പൊതു തെരഞ്ഞെടുപ്പിൽ ബി ജെ പി യ്ക്ക് ലഭിച്ച  അഭൂതപൂർവമായ ഭൂരിപക്ഷം 32% ജനങ്ങൾ അവരെ പിന്തുണച്ചു എന്നതുകൊണ്ടല്ലമറിച്ചു ഒരു നഗര കേന്ദ്രീകൃത സമ്പത്തിക രാഷ്ട്രീയ വരേണ്യകൂട്ടുകെട്ടിനാൽ നിയന്ത്രിക്കപ്പെടുന്ന കുടുംബാധിപത്യ സംരഭത്തിനോടുള്ള കടുത്ത നൈരാശ്യത്തിന്റെ ഫലമാണ്. വിരോധാഭാസമെന്തെന്നാൽ സവിശേഷാധികാരങ്ങൾ ഉള്ള ഉയർന്ന ജാതിയിലും വിഭാഗങ്ങളിലും ഉൾപ്പെട്ട സാമ്പത്തിക പ്രമാണിമാരും വ്യവസായികളുമാണ് നവ യാഥാസ്ഥിതികമൂല്യങ്ങൾ മുറുകെപ്പിടിക്കുന്ന ഒരു ചെറു ന്യൂനപക്ഷം ആയ ഉന്നതജാതിക്കാരുടെ പിന്തുണയോടു കൂടി,ആക്രമണോന്മുഖമായ മാധ്യമപ്രചരണ തന്ത്രങ്ങളിലൂടെ, ഇന്ത്യ എന്ന ആശയത്തെ കൈപ്പിടിയിലൊതുക്കാൻ ശ്രമിക്കുന്നത്.
കഴിഞ്ഞ 90 വർഷമായി RSS നടപ്പിലാക്കാൻ ശ്രമിക്കുന്നത് ഫാസിസ്റ്റ് അജണ്ട തന്നെയാണ് എന്നതിൽ തർക്കമില്ല. 1938-ൽ We or Our Nationhood Defined എന്ന പുസ്തകത്തിൽ ഗോൾവൾക്കർ നാസികളുടെ ജൂത ഉന്മൂലനത്തിനെ അനുകൂലിക്കുന്നുണ്ട്. " രാഷ്ട്രത്തിന്റെ വിശുദ്ധിയും സംസ്കാരവും ഉയർത്തിപ്പിടിക്കാൻ,സെമിറ്റിക് വംശജരായ ജൂതന്മാരെ നിർമാർജനം ചെയ്തുകൊണ്ട് ജർമനി ലോകത്തെ ഞെട്ടിച്ചു. ദേശീയബോധം അതിന്റെ പാരമ്യത്തിൽ നമുക്കിവിടെ കാണാം. വ്യത്യസ്ത വർഗങ്ങളെയും സംസ്കാരങ്ങളെയും അതിന്റെ വേരറ്റം ചെന്ന് ഒരൊറ്റ അസ്തിത്വത്തിലേക്ക്‌ സ്വാംശീകരിക്കുക എന്നത് എത്രത്തോളം അനായാസമായ സംഗതിയാണെന്ന് ജർമനി കാട്ടിത്തരുന്നുണ്ട്. ഹിന്ദുത്വത്തെ സംബന്ധിച്ചിടത്തോളം നേട്ടമുണ്ടാക്കാൻ കഴിയുന്ന ഒരു പാഠമാണിത്."
ജാതിഭേദത്തെയും ലിംഗഭേദത്തെയും പവിത്രവത്കരിക്കുന്നതോടൊപ്പം  മനുസ്മൃതി ബ്രഹ്മണാധീശത്വത്തെയും വിശുദ്ധമായി കാണുന്നുണ്ട്. അതുകൊണ്ട് തന്നെ വിഭാഗീയ അജണ്ടയുള്ള ബ്രാഹ്മണ നേതാക്കൾ സദാവേദങ്ങൾക്ക് ശേഷം ഏറ്റവും അധികം ആരാധിക്കപ്പെട്ട പ്രാമാണിക ഗ്രന്ഥമായി കരുതപ്പെടുന്ന മനുസ്മൃതിയുടെ മാഹാത്മ്യത്തെ പ്രകീർത്തിക്കുകയും ചെയ്യുന്നു. ഗോൾവൾക്കർ മനുവിനെ 'മനുഷ്യവംശത്തിലെ ഏറ്റവും മഹാനും ബുദ്ധിമാനുമായ പ്രഥമ ന്യായാധിപൻഎന്ന് വിശേഷിപ്പിക്കുന്നു. 1950-ൽ RSS ഇന്ത്യൻ ഭരണഘടനയെ എതിർക്കുകയും തൽസ്ഥാനത്ത് മനുവിന്റെ നിയമാവലി നടപ്പാക്കണമെന്ന ആവശ്യം ഉന്നയിക്കുകയും ചെയ്തിരുന്നു. ഈ മനോനിലയാണ് ഫാസിസത്തിനു വളക്കൂറുള്ള മണ്ണായി ഇന്ത്യയെ മാറ്റുന്നത്. ഇതേ മാനസികാവസ്ഥയാണ് നൈതികതയുടെയും സഹനത്തിന്റെയും അഹിംസയുടെയും സനാതനഹൈന്ദവതയുടെയും പ്രവാചകനായിരുന്ന ഗാന്ധിജിയുടെ കൊലപാതകത്തിനു പ്രേരകശക്തിയായത്.
ഇറ്റലിയിലെ ഫാസിസ്ടുകളും ജർമനിയിലെ നാസികളും എത്രത്തോളം ക്രിസ്തുമതത്തിന്റെ നൈതികതയിൽ നിന്നും അകലെയായിരുന്നുവോ അധീശാത്മകവും ഹിംസാത്മകവും ആയ ഫാസിസ്റ്റ് അജണ്ടയുടെ പ്രയോക്താക്കൾവിവേകാനന്ദനും ഡോ. രാധാകൃഷ്ണനും അരബിന്ദോയും മഹാത്മാഗാന്ധിയും ഈ നാട്ടിലെ മഹാഭൂരിപക്ഷം ജനങ്ങളും വിശ്വസിക്കുന്നസകലതിനെയും ഉൾക്കൊള്ളുന്ന വസുധൈവ ഹൈന്ദവതയിൽ നിന്നും അത്രത്തോളം അകലെയാണ്. അതുകൊണ്ട് തന്നെ പലപ്പോഴും വെറും രണ്ടു ശതമാനത്തിൽ താഴെവരുന്ന സവർണ വിഭാഗങ്ങൾക്ക് രാജ്യത്തിന്റെ മേലുള്ള മേധാവിത്ത്വവും നിയന്ത്രണവും മറച്ചുപിടിക്കുന്നതിനായി മത സ്വത്വബിംബങ്ങളെ വളച്ചൊടിക്കുകയും ചെയ്യുന്നു.
ഈയിടെ നടന്ന യുക്തിവാദികളുടെയും സമൂഹ്യപ്രവർത്തകരുടെയും എഴുത്തുകാരുടെയും കൊലപാതകപരമ്പരകളും വിയോജിപ്പിന്റെയും എതിർപ്പിന്റെയും പ്രതിരോധത്തിന്റെയും ശബ്ദങ്ങളെ ഭീഷണി കൊണ്ടും പീഡനങ്ങൾ കൊണ്ടും അമർത്താനുമുളള ശ്രമങ്ങളുമെല്ലാം തന്നെ മാനുഷിക മൂല്യങ്ങളുള്ള ബഹുസ്വര ജനാധിപത്യ ഇന്ത്യ എന്നാ ആശയത്തെ ഇല്ലായ്മ ചെയ്യാൻ ശ്രമിക്കുന്നസാമ്പത്തിക രാഷ്ട്രീയ ശക്തികളാൽ സംരക്ഷിക്കപ്പെടുന്നസാമൂഹ്യ ഫാസിസത്തിന്റെ നിദർശകങ്ങളത്രേ. ഒരു കൂട്ടം കുടുംബങ്ങൾ നയിക്കുന്ന വ്യവസായ ലോബികളും.
കുടുംബഭരണത്തിൻ കീഴിലുള്ള കോർപരെറ്റ് മാധ്യമങ്ങളും സവിശേഷധികാരങ്ങൾ സിദ്ധമായ ഉന്നത വിഭാഗത്തിൽ പെട്ട വിദേശ ഇന്ത്യക്കാരും ചേർന്ന്'പൊതുസമ്മതി നിർമാണം എന്നതു നമ്മെ ബോധ്യപെടുത്താനായി പരമാവധി ശ്രമിക്കുമ്പോൾ തന്നെ പാർശ്വവത്കരിക്കപ്പെട്ട ന്യൂനപക്ഷങ്ങളിലും വിമോചന ചിന്താഗതിക്കാരിലും എഴുത്തുകാരിലുമൊക്കെ അനന്യമായ ഭീതിയും അരക്ഷിതാവസ്ഥയും വളർന്നു  കൊണ്ടിരിക്കുന്നു. ഉപഭോഗവസ്തു തെരഞ്ഞെടുക്കുന്നതിന്റെ പേരിൽ ഒരാ കൊല്ലപ്പെടുമ്പോൾഒരെഴുത്തുകാരന്റെ പടിവാതിലിൽ കൊലപാതകികൾ പ്രത്യക്ഷപ്പെടുമ്പോൾഒരധ്യാപകൻ അല്ലെങ്കിൽ എഴുത്തുകാരൻ ഭീഷണി മുഴങ്ങുന്ന ഫോ വിളികൾ സ്വീകരിക്കുമ്പോൾ ഒക്കെ തന്നെ ഫാസിസ്റ്റുകൾ ഇന്ത്യ എന്ന ആശയത്തെ നശിപ്പിക്കുകയാണ്. 1930-കളിലെ നാസി ജർമനിയെയൊ ഫാസിസ്റ്റ് ഇറ്റലിയെയോ പോലെ അല്ലതീർത്തും വൈവിധ്യം നിറഞ്ഞ ഇന്ത്യ. പണത്തിന്റെയും കായികശക്തിയുടെയും ഹുങ്കിൽ ഈ രാജ്യത്തിന്റെ നാനത്വത്തെയും ബഹുസ്വരതയെയും ജനാധിപത്യത്തെയും ശ്വാസം മുട്ടിക്കാനുള്ള തൊരു ശ്രമത്തെയും ഇന്നാട്ടിലെ മഹാഭൂരിപക്ഷം എതിർക്കുക തന്നെ ചെയ്യും. ജനാധിപത്യ വാഗ്ദാനത്തിന്റെ അടിസ്ഥാനതത്ത്വങ്ങൾ ആണ് ഭീതിയിൽ നിന്നും ഇല്ലായ്മയിൽ നിന്നുമുള്ള സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യം. വിശ്വാസത്തിനുള്ള സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യത്തിലും കൂട്ടായ്മയ്ക്കുള്ള സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യത്തിലും ഒരു തരത്തിലുമുള്ള വിലപേശലുകൾ ഭരണഘടന അനുവദിക്കുന്നില്ല എന്ന് മാത്രമല്ല അവ ഉറപ്പു കൊടുക്കുകയും ചെയ്യുന്നു. ഇന്ത്യ എന്ന ആശയത്തിൽ വിശ്വസിക്കുന്ന ഈ രാജ്യത്തെയും ജനങ്ങളെയും അതിന്റെ സമ്പന്ന പാരമ്പര്യത്തെയും സ്നേഹിക്കുന്ന എല്ലാവരും മതഭ്രാന്തിൽ നിന്നും ഫാസിസത്തിൽ നിന്നും ഇന്നാട്ടിനെ വീണ്ടെടുക്കാനുള്ള ശ്രമങ്ങളിൽ ഒരുമിക്കേണ്ടതുണ്ട്. മതത്തിന്റെ നൈതികപിരിവുകളെ മതാന്ധത ബാധിച്ചവരിൽ നിന്നും വർഗീയവാദികളിൽ നിന്നും എല്ലാത്തരതിലുമുള്ള ഫാസിസ്ടുകളിൽ നിന്നും നമുക്ക് പുനർനിർമിക്കണം.

ഇന്ത്യ എന്ന ആശയം വിഷലിപ്തമാക്കപ്പെടുമ്പോൾ നാം നിശബ്ദരായിരിക്കാൻ പാടില്ല. രാജ്യം നൈതികവും രാഷ്ട്രീയവുമായ ഒരു പ്രതിസന്ധിയെ നേരിടുമ്പോൾ നമുക്ക് നിക്ഷ്പക്ഷരായിരിക്കാൻ സാധിക്കില്ല. ലക്ഷക്കണക്കിന്‌ ജനങ്ങൾ അനീതിയ്ക്കും വിവേചനത്തിനും അക്രമത്തിനും വർഗീയതയ്ക്കും ഫാസിസത്തിനും നേർക്ക്‌ അരുത് എന്ന് പറയേണ്ടതാണ്. നമുക്കൊരു വൈവിധ്യപൂർണമായ ജനാധിപത്യത്തിൽ എല്ലാം വൈവിധ്യവും ഉൾക്കൊള്ളാൻ  കഴിയുന്ന ഒരു ഇന്ത്യ വളർത്തിയെടുക്കണം. നമുക്ക് ഗാന്ധിജിയും ഫൂലെയും അംബേദ്കറും നാരായണ ഗുരുവും പ്രചരിപ്പിച്ച മൂല്യങ്ങൾ കണ്ടെടുത്ത് ഇന്ത്യ എന്ന ആശയത്തെ പുനരുജ്ജീവിപ്പിക്കാം.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Who is an activist ?

 Activist is a person with a set of ethical, social, political or philosophical conviction and try to apply such set of values and conviction in her/ his vision, words and deeds . Activism can be of different political persuasion or coloure. Activists become leaders when they combine capability, competence and the commitment to learn, listen, inspire and initiate collective action for a larger cause than themselves. Abusing is not activism. Angry reaction is not a sign of responsible activism.Being simply angry at a person is not activism. An activist leader can transform anger in to collective social energy for positive social and political action. Responsible activism involves courage of conviction along with a deep sense of humility, responsible words and deeds, informed analysis and immense patience. A thoughtful activist requires an internalised sense of empathy,values, wisdom, vision and sense detachment. Activists with deep sense of empathy and wisdom can think beyond their personal 'achievements' and resist the temptation to become a narcissist. Making change happen requires an ability to communicate, convince, and commit to take as many people as possible for a larger cause. Successful advocacy and activism require an ability to combine politics of protest with politics of proposals. Strategic advocacy requires an ability build bridges, and not to burn bridges. Good advocacy involves respect for others and your political opponent while critiquing their policies and politics. Love the sinner and hate the sin. Any form of violence in thoughts, words and deed do not help the larger cause of advocacy in a democratic society. A sense of tolerance to listen and learn is a prerequisite for any dialogue, discussions or debate. Advocacy is a like a marathon and not a sprint. Respecting people is a value. As Che said love is another word for revolution and an ability to love people irrespective of their political position or immaturity is a sign of a true revolutionary. It requires immense internal confidence to be humble, loving, patient and transformative in our thoughts and deeds

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Development cola, served chilled

                                                                                                     by John Samuel

When development goes corporate and global, the spirit of voluntary action goes straight out the window

Irony is the hallmark of our times, the organising chord of political and institutional discourse. When the army is directly involved in confronting militant groups or in situations of civil war, it is supposed to be involved in `peace-keeping' (remember the IPKF in Sri Lanka?). And when a country explodes nuclear devices or weapons, it is also in the name of `ensuring peace'. When the government wants to move out of the health or education sector, the official justification is that government wants to increase `people's participation'.
It's the same with voluntarism or voluntary action. When we say ours is a voluntary organisation, does it really mean that the organisation is run by voluntary action or the voluntary spirit? Isn't it obvious that anyone who chooses to be an activist has made a voluntary decision to do so? Isn't it ironical that an organisation with an annual budget of tens of millions of rupees, with professional staff drawing salaries at `market rates' and with corporate structures, should  call itself a voluntary organisation? In fact, one needs a microscope to look for anything `voluntary' in most organisations that apply that term to themselves.

The spirit of voluntary action is as old as civilisation. It formed the basis of social ethics and community living. And all great civilisations and cultures emphasised the virtue of voluntary action,  the act of going beyond oneself or one's immediate self-interest  to live for or serve a  larger cause. The essence of spirituality as practised by almost all religious streams encompasses an element of voluntary action. When the Bhagvad Gita says "Find full reward of right in doing right, let right deeds be thy motive, not the fruits thereof," when the Koran prescribes Zakat as an essential part of pious living, or Jesus says "You are the salt of the earth", the underlying spiritual essence is more or less the same. The Buddhist notion of Dhamma, the Confucian idea of Jen or the Christian idea of Charity encompass elements of voluntary human and social action.
The notion of Jen suggested by Confucius is particularly relevant. Variously translated as goodness, people-to-people benevolence, it is best rendered as human heartiness. Jen involves a simultaneous feeling of humanity towards others and respect for oneself, an indivisible sense of the dignity of human life wherever it appears. Jen implies everything that distinguishes human beings from beasts and machines and makes people distinctively human. Confucius says, "The man who possesses Jen, wishing to establish himself, seeks also to enlarge others."

The idea of voluntary action has very clear ethical and spiritual connotations. One's resolve to dedicate a part of her/his time, resources or life is a subjective choice, which each individual expresses in various ways. There are shades of voluntary action: right from giving food to an impoverished child, to helping an accident victim, or giving a contribution for the well-being of the poor, fighting injustice or being a political activist protecting the interests of the marginalised. As long as this is an individual choice or a subjective decision based on an individual's value system, there is no problem. But it becomes difficult when a subjective choice based on ethical principles gets institutionalised. This is because institutions are often governed by institutional interests and power relations. When individuals with strong personal convictions or voluntary spirit come together to form an institution, eventually there can be conflict between the institutional interests and the voluntary spirit/personal convictions of the people within the institution.

The tension between the spirit of voluntary action and the process of institution-building is evident in the voluntary sector. With the increasing flow of funds and the subsequent corporatisation of the voluntary sector, there is a growing crisis in the very ethos of voluntarism. It's inevitable, given the paradoxes involved in institutionalising a set of beliefs and values. There seem to be four crises, viz: crisis of values and ethics; crisis of legitimacy; crisis of leadership; and crisis of language.
There was a time when people got involved in social change initiatives or voluntary action primarily because of strong ideological or ethical convictions. There were religious missionaries, Gandhians, Marxists, socialists, liberals etc who influenced the social ethos with a strong sense of idealism and an ability to sacrifice personal comforts. Such voluntary activists inspired others and formed organisations for a larger cause. We have many inspiring examples, right from Raja Ram Mohan Roy to Birsa Munda and from Pandita Ramabhai to Verrier Elwin. Many of them became pathbreakers for larger social reform movements. The entire freedom struggle acquired a social reformative function because of the spirit of voluntary action. Even after independence there was a strong stream of reformative voluntary action, led  by leaders like Vinoba Bhave and others.

Now, however, social work has become more of a profession and less of a personal commitment. From the '70s, voluntary organisations began to be seen as agents of  development. The mandarins and the experts in the international donor agencies not only funded them but also `streamlined' these institutions. Many of them felt that their `development' mission is too important a task to leave to committed voluntary activists. Professional skills began to take precedence over social commitment or personal conviction. In the late '60s and '70s social work colleges sprang up across the country. Management institutes began to realise the virtues of rural development. By the time we reached the mid-'80s, there were more professionals with the right skills and right language and less voluntary activists. Voluntary activists as a species were either transformed into `development managers' or faced extinction in the `professionalised' voluntary sector. Comrades working hand in hand for reformation and revolution disappeared into the melancholy of the '70s and '80s.

When we reached the '90s, `development' itself got corporatised and globalised. What is best for the third world is charted out by a set of `development experts' through a series of concept papers, strategy charts and country papers prepared and discussed in New York, Washington, London or Amsterdam. Once the blueprint is ready, they directly or indirectly hire or fire professionals to put their development blueprints into operation. Thus development becomes a packaged or designer `product' to be served almost like a hot beverage or chilled cola to the people. And social marketing became the `in thing'. In fact, this product-centred orientation made many of the international development organisations develop their own pet `brands'.

In the development market, people became consumers of development aid and `targets' to be covered. From time to time, the World Bank or UN mandarins will evaluate the macro performance and prescribe new medicines and operations for old ailments such as poverty, inequality, deprivation, environmental degradation etc. Many of the international aid and support organisations began to market and sell the `development' medicine prescribed by these worthies. Thus, many of these organisations were transformed into wholesale or retail agents of a development paradigm designed by a set of experts who are culturally, socially and mentally alienated from the so-called target population.

The erstwhile activists and community workers have gradually been replaced by line managers who will monitor development. In their enthusiasm to deliver the goods, somewhere along the way, values and ethics took a back seat. Viability, sustainability (read survival) and pragmatism took the front seats. People with any `ideological hangovers' or `ethical dogmas' became anathema to the proponents of a top-down development paradigm.

In the new scheme of things, ideas like participation, decentralisation and democracy have become strategies or tactics rather than ethical principles. In the course of the hyper-institutionalisation of social action, voluntarism itself ceases to become an ethical principle based on the subjective choice of individuals. Voluntarism has become an institutional strategy to strengthen the `outreach' mechanisms.

While in the '60s and '70s, an individual's convictions determined the choice of his career, in the '90s, career options and priorities determine commitment and personal convictions. Such a reversal of  meaning and process makes voluntarism more an irony and less of an   ethical choice. This would eventually lead to the privatisation of the development sector and make it a cosmetic corollary to the corporate sector. The ongoing crisis of values and ethics of voluntarism will undermine the very raison d'etre of voluntary social action.
The crisis of legitimacy and leadership are the direct result of the crisis in values and ethics. The gap between the self-perception of the voluntary sector and public perception is increasing in an alarming way. Though there are hundreds of genuine voluntary social change initiatives, the corporatisation of mainstream development organisations tends to create an entirely different image. Such a public perception may not be necessarily true. The substantial change in the public perception happened partially because of negative and sensational press coverage and partially because of tremendous change in the lifestyles of erstwhile voluntary activists and present-day development managers.

Till the early '80s there was a convergence between socio-political movements and voluntary organisations. Leadership of the voluntary sector emerged out of the larger social reforms and political movements. Many of the leaders of social action opted for constructive work through voluntary action rather than power politics and party dynamics. This meant that there was broad social legitimacy for voluntary organisations, as the majority of activists and workers represented the social and community ethos of their time. They identified  themselves with the community and the people with whom they were working. They came from the communities and lived and worked with the people. This gave these organisations and leaders the moral authority to represent the larger interests of the people.

While the earlier generation  of social activists learned from the communities directly, the new generation of development managers learned their lessons from books and figures. They derived their legitimacy from their professional pedigree and social locations.

While the activists of the '60s and '70s derived their power from the people and grassroots support base, in the '90s, development leaders derived their power from the institutional infrastructure and the extent of clout in international development circles.
The power of conviction, integrated with the power of the people and power of knowledge, was potential enough to challenge dominant power relations. That is why tens of  thousands of young people responded to Jayaprakash Narayan's call in 1974. When leaders fail to inspire people with their lives, deeds and words, the organic link between society and leadership ceases to exist. The role models of top-ranking development professionals are not Jayaprakash Narayan or Niyogi or  Safdar Hashmi. The visible urban-centric leadership in the corporatised development sector has begun to look more like vulgar imitations of the corporate executives of big industrial houses or transnational corporations. We cease to have leaders in the proliferation of managers driven by enlightened self-interest. That is what can be termed as the crisis of leadership.
The alienation of development professionals from real life situations and the deprived sections is partially responsible for the crisis of legitimacy faced by the voluntary sector. When someone writes a wonderful paper on the public distribution system, without ever being anywhere near a ration shop, it somehow fails to relate with real life needs and situations. Real life experiences and insights are increasingly being replaced by research studies conducted by `development tourists' from the the western hemisphere.

We are living in a time when experts derive their experience and perception through dehumanised institutional systems --proposals, reports, memos, charts, seminars etc. The Internet may be an effective means of communication, but it is far away from the sight of the deprived millions. There seems to be no more space or time for great sorrows and little happiness in an increasingly dehumanised development machinery. While the values of voluntary action are rooted in the micro-level everyday experiences of an individual, the logic of international development institutions is driven by macro trends and the sheer demand for and supply of funds. This contradiction is at the root of the identity crisis faced by many of us in the social change sector. Because as long as the people at large do not own the process of social change, the question of representation becomes very tricky.

The erosion of legitimacy is also because the people and communities have begun to see themselves as the beneficiaries or consumers of the development programmes, rather than seeing themselves as the changemakers. Unless people at large feel a strong sense of belonging to the  social change initiatives, the long-term social viability and legitimacy will be in peril.

The internal contradictions within the development sector are often glossed over by cleverly manipulating words and their meaning. The progressive-looking words become the most effective tactics and strategy to subvert the value and spirit of voluntarism. When words become deceptive, meanings become elusive. Such elusiveness provides an intellectual shade for the subversion of values, experiences and beliefs in a corporatised world of development. The co-option of words is used to pave the way for the co-option of  individual activists. It is far easier to interpret the crisis than to change the course of the ongoing subversion. What we need is a reinvention of  the values and ethics that make voluntary social action a truly humanist endeavour.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Public Advocacy in the Indian Context

                                                                                                                                             John Samuel

Public Advocacy is a mode of social action. The nature and character of Public Advocacy, to a large extent is shaped up by the political culture, social systems and the constitutional framework of the country in which it is being practised. The definition and a theoretical understanding of Public Advocacy can only be derived from the varied practices of influencing decision making and public policies by public interest or social action groups in different sociocultural and political contexts. It is the practice which makes the theory of advocacy and not vice versa. But the way we perceive and practise Public Advocacy is determined by the ideological inclinations, historical settings and the value system of the proponents. One of the difficulties in getting clarity about the term advocacy is the fact that it is being widely and broadly used to signify a sweep of practices ranging from public relations, market research and report writing to lobbying, public interest litigations and civil disobedience. Though the process of advocacy encompasses one or more of such components, mistaking the use of one component to public advocacy is to miss the woods for the trees.

 It is those ones who practise public advocacy, decide whether it is a permutation and combination of skills and strategies or it is a value driven political process that will make policy influencing more effective and efficient. The practice of Public Advocacy can be seen from three perspectives viz. political, managerial or technical. While effective efforts of public advocacy integrate all these aspects, the emphasis of different aspects will depend on the beliefs and background of the proponent. For instance, a social or political activist would perceive public advocacy basically as a political process, that may involve some professional approach or technical understanding of the appropriate devices and skills. But, some one with a managerial perspective may see it as the effective use of technical devices and skills and professional practices, with or without some political component. Since the term is in current circulation in the social change and development discourse, most of the international development agencies either try to use the term with a broad coverage to project their research and publication agenda as a part of Public Advocacy or straitjacket the very definition of advocacy to suit their immediate institutional needs and strategic roles.

Hence there is a need to develop a long term political and historical perspective about the concept and practice of Public Advocacy; its relevance for advancing a more humane, just and equal world. This paper attempts to locate and understand the concept and practice of Public Advocacy in the Indian context.

The concept and practice of Public Advocacy in India can be located from three different streams; firstly, from the history of socio-religious reforms movement and nationalist struggle for the Indian independence; secondly, from the dynamics of political culture and social systems prevailing in the country for the last fifty years. And finally, the prevailing practices of Public Advocacy by non-party political formations, social action and public interest groups. The entire 2 arena of Public Advocacy becomes functional and meaningful in relation to the constitutional framework, character of the State and the operating political culture. In the Indian context, the process of public advocacy can be better understood by locating it in the historical, political and social practices and analysing it in relation to a representative parliamentary democratic constitutional framework.

 Understanding Public Advocacy : A political perspective 

It is essential to spell out what do we mean by Public Advocacy before attempting to locate it in the Indian context . As it has been pointed out earlier, the definition of the term can not be a universal one, as it is being perceived and practised differently by different set of actors or proponents. Here, the attempt to define advocacy is primarily based on the perspective of many of the politically oriented social action groups and social change agents in India. Public Advocacy is a planned and organised set of actions to effectively influence public policies and to get them implemented in a way that would empower the marginalised. In a liberal democratic culture, it uses the instruments of democracy and adopts non-violent and constitutional means. The purpose of public advocacy is to advance social and economic justice, human rights, public interest and to make the governance accountable and transparent. It is being perceived as a value driven political process. Public Advocacy is considered as a political process because it seeks to question and change existing unequal power relations in favour of the socially, politically and economically marginalised sections. In the Indian context, grassroot organising and mobilisation become means for rights awareness and assertion, and lend credibility, legitimacy and crucial bargaining power to Public Advocacy.

Advocacy involves :
 ⇒ resisting unequal power relations (like patriarchy) at every level
 -from personal to public -
from family to governance

engaging institutions of governance -to empower the marginalised
creating and using ‘spaces’ within the system -to change it
strategising the use of knowledge, skills and opportunities - to influence public policies
 ⇒ bridging the micro-level activism and macro level policy initiatives

From a people centred political perspective, advocacy is not merely a permutation and combination of skills and strategies or a substitute for grassroots mobilisation or organising.

In India, one of the major thrust of Public Advocacy is the implementation of existing social justice legislations and social security programmes. Though there are number of progressive legislations such as Equal Remuneration Act, Dowry Prohibition Act, Bonded Labour 3 Prohibition Act or Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Act, there is a large lacuna in the implementation of such Acts. This is primarily because of two reasons. Firstly, the lack of political will and administrative efficiency to implement such legislations. And secondly, the incompatibility between the libertarian or liberal constitutional values and the traditional socio-cultural practices (like caste) and religious values (like fatalism). For instance, deep-rooted caste and class prejudices or patriarchal practices get into the way of implementing any progressive social justice legislation. Hence, from a holistic social change perspective, Public Advocacy should ideally go beyond mere public policy influence to the larger arena of influencing societal attitudes and practices so as to transform oppressive value system to a more just and humane worldview. Thus, the awareness and assertion of the rights and social responsibilities of citizens become almost a pre-requisite for a people-centred public advocacy. From such a perspective, Public Advocacy is a mode of social action that leads to the empowerment of the people with less conventional economic, social or political power.

There cannot be any public advocacy in vacuum. Issues of deprivation, injustice and rights violation precede the process of advocacy. Without an issue, what will one advocate for. In other words, there is nothing like advocacy as such in isolation. There has to be an issue or a cause to advocate for. We use the term Public Advocacy to signify a set of planned, proactive and organised actions to address issues of injustice, marginalisation and rights abuse in a more effective and efficient manner. Since in a liberal democratic framework, public policies play a very important role in determining the directions of social justice, political and civil liberties and the long term interest of the environment and people at large, the primary focus of advocacy is the arena of influencing policy formulation, change and implementation. But public policies are a function of the dominant political equation at a given space and time. Hence to effectively influence public policies, one has to influence the existing power relations in a way that would shift the power relations in favour of the marginalised. Influencing power relations is not a oneway traffic or a linear process. It is a complex process, wherein various interest groups confront and negotiate to advance their particular interest. The challenge for Public Advocacy or social action groups is to advance the rights of the marginalised and voiceless, with the minimum financial, institutional and human resources available with them. To effectively influence power structures of government or corporate interest, one needs other sources of power. In the context of Public Advocacy, five major sources are : the power of people or citizens, the power of information and knowledge, the power of constitutional guarantees, the power of direct grassroots experience or linkages and the power of moral convictions. In an effective advocacy, it is not only important to have information. It is more important to transform such information into knowledge by interpreting the former with a set of values.

Advocacy in India : A historical understanding 

The history of public advocacy can be reconstructed from the social and political practices of public policy influencing for the last two hundred years. The history of conscious and organised socio-political actions for public policy change can be divided into four phases. The first phase is that of socio-religious reform movement from 1800 to 1857, the second phase from 1857 to 1920s is that of the emergence of a nationalist movement for the Indian independence, the third 4 phase from 1920 to 1950 is that of a mass based political movement for freedom struggle; and the fourth phase is from 1950s to the emergency period of 1977. All these phases constitute the process of the establishment of a liberal democratic order based on a representative parliamentary constitutional framework. The ongoing phase of Public Advocacy in its present form emerged as a post-emergency political process from 1977 onwards. The different phases of history of Public Advocacy is marked by a substantial change in the nature and character of the polity and concurrent changes in the political system and institutional framework. The character of Public Advocacy and the use of various methods changed from time to time, depending on the changing institutional structures .

Advocacy as a practice is not nascent in India. The tradition of influencing public policy, for eradicating social evils, goes back to the nineteenth century social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy. The legacy of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar gives significant insight into the indigenous and effective advocacy methods practised during the preindependence period. Here it would be interesting to note the influence of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent methods on Martin Luther King, whose legacy still prevails in various social justice movements in the USA. As David Cohen (1994) pointed out, “the legacy of Gandhiji and Luther King is not just non-violence but non-violence to achieve social justice and with that a fundamental re-ordering of power relationships within the society.”

In India, there have been advocacy efforts on issues related to environmental degradation, rights of the dalits and tribals, women’s rights and civil rights, nuclear installations, land alienation of tribals, child labour, unorganised working sector, drug and forest policies and many other issues. While voluntary organisations and activist-groups have been active in social, developmental and political interventions at micro level, occasional efforts by such organisations or groups to influence the formulation or implementation of public policies remained by and large fragmented or isolated in the larger context of the country. Even within such a context, some of the successful advocacy campaigns like the Silent Valley Movement in Kerala and Amniocentesis Campaign in Maharashtra point to greater possibilities of organised advocacy efforts. Advocacy efforts by the social action groups played a crucial role in the making of government policies such as the Abolition of Bonded Labour Act (1976) and the Primary Health Care Policy (1977). It is true that many a time initiatives of grass-roots organisations to intervene at a macro level for influencing the public policies were not sustained and systematic enough to bring out the desired results. This was also due to lack of adequate knowledge and skills to deal with various systems that determind the making and unmaking of public policies. At a time when grassroots reality of the country is increasingly being affected by economic liberalisation and structural adjustment policies, there is a growing realisation among the social action groups about the necessity of empowering the people to influence the public policies for ensuring socio-economic, environmental and distributive justice to all.

 Advocacy Methods in the Indian Context 

The isolated `murmurs of dissent’ can be amplified and channelised by using appropriate advocacy methods This would enable the organisations and activist-groups to influence the (5 )policy makers more effectively. For this, it is imperative to develop advocacy methods and models within the context of an Indian situation. It is also necessary to understand the possibilities as well as limitations of using advocacy as a tool for social change in India. There is much to learn from the experience of the activist-groups that made use of organised advocacy methods. Some of the successful social advocates (Vivek Pandit - Advocacy workshop, Nirmal, October 6th and 7th, 1993) rightly pointed out the need to evolve an integrative approach that would make use of various advocacy components (like legislative advocacy, media advocacy, judicial devices, dealing with the bureaucracy, framing the issue, coalitions and grassroot mobilisation) simultaneously and optimally according to the context and nature of the issue. In many of the relatively effective advocacy efforts, mass mobilisation, improvised methods of nonviolent protest and persuasion, public interest litigation, legislative advocacy, lobbying the bureaucrats and media advocacy were strategically and simultaneously used to build up an effective public argument. In some of the ongoing campaigns like Save Narmada Movement, grassroots mobilisation was combined with other advocacy strategies such as activating global pressure through international advocacy groups and development lobbies (Srinivasan 1992).

Advocacy is a means and not an end in itself. In India, advocacy without mobilisation may prove to be more of a vanity. Grassroots mobilisation and advocacy efforts should be complementary. While there are various elements or components of influencing public policies or public opinions, it is important to advance advocacy initiatives with holistic perspective about the social change process. The use of any one component, such as mobilisation or media relation in isolation may not lead to effective public advocacy. In the Indian context one should also think of an advocacy model that would enable us to deal with the system at different levels such as Central, State, District and Taluk. Since the political culture prevailing in different states of India varies considerably, the strategies of advocacy also may change accordingly from one state to another. A proper advocacy model should be able to address long-term goals in the larger context of the country and short-term goals with in a given space and time. The credibility and the socio-political legitimacy of advocacy efforts in the Indian context would largely depend on the consistency and compatibility of means and ends. As it has been pointed in one of the earlier studies (Srinivasan, 1992), the public advocacy movement in India seems to be more concerned about the fundamental power relations and processes in the society than its American Counterparts (especially anti-smoking campaign, prochoice campaigns and the likes). Whether this difference in advocacy priorities is “a function of economic well-being of a society or the degree of anarchy in civil society is worth considering”. In parliamentary democracy like India, the avenues for lobbying through the legislative committees is rather limited as most of the legislations are initiated by the cabinet (executive) itself, which usually commands the support of the majority party in the parliament. In the absence of strong party whips, it is relatively less difficult to persuade the senators or the congress men in the USA. There is a wide spectrum of ideological shades that is associated with the party politics in India and lobbying the parliamentarians, who are generally bound to follow party whips, may not be as effective as in the USA. But the proper use of ‘Question Hour’ in the parliament and legislative assemblies through legislative lobbying is one of the effective advocacy strategies. In the Indian context, grassroots support and constituency is the most 6 important factor that determines the credibility of the lobbyist rather than his/her professional background or expertise. It seems that activists with adequate level of expertise and mass support were proven better lobbyists in India than any professional expert.

 Major challenges 

The major challenge for the Public Advocacy in India would be that of safe-guarding and extending the political space for effectively advocating the cause of the marginalised sections. It is equally important to resist the agenda setting mechanisms of the multinational corporations and the vested interests operating through various kinds of fundamentalism.

Access to information is a pre-requisite for any advocacy initiative and a sustained campaign for repealing the Official Secrets Act is an indispensable step towards a more effective Indian Advocacy. Another danger of an increasingly ‘professionalised advocacy’ is the dilution or marginalisation of real issues in the ‘labyrinth’ of strategies, tactics and skills.

 If the Public Advocacy initiatives are not rooted in the grassroots reality and is practised only at macro level, there is a danger of appropriating the voice of the marginalised by a set of urban elites, equipped with information and skills. The challenge is to constantly be sensitive to the grassroot situation and organically bridge the gap between citizens and the policy change, without appropriating the voice of the marginalised and without being co-opted by the dominant system. A potential threat to the credibility of the advocacy practitioner is the alienation from mass-based movements that could happen when activists get more interested in lobbying and the powers related with it and or in the process? themselves co-opted by the power structure or get lost in the maze of vested interest politics.


• David Cohen (1994) : Key-note Address at the National Workshop on Indian Advocacy, NCAS, Pune
 • Srinivasan S. (1992) : Content and Context of Advocacy in India DISHA, Ahmedabad. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


 by  John Samuel
   The new mantra is `Information is power'. But who is being empowered by the dotcom revolution? The consumers who are rushing for their daily online fix? The thirsty  villagers who have access to neither technology nor plastic money? Or the merchants and brokers of information, money and images?

There's tonnes of information floating around the information highways these days. And there are hoards of Internet junkies swimming around in dotcom waters. But what does this information do for the hungry child or the thirsty village? How much of this information can fill  an empty stomach? My concern is not about the validity of information, but that this contagious information fever is eclipsing reality. All of a sudden all of Mumbai was filled with dotcom hoardings promising instant information nirvana for any problem under the sky: from dating to dancing, from soyabeans to salvation, from cars to cricket, and from houses to headaches. The message was that you would not be able to survive without a dotcom connection for your daily fix of information. This was the direct outcome of the climbing sensex and the boom in the infotech sector. The important thing to consider here is not the newfound enthusiasm for information.

The important thing is that there's a process at work here in which information, image and  money become more vital than the ideas, reality or resources they are supposed to represent. There is a connection between the predominance of finance capital or the money market, the high-pitched information market and the emerging politics of images. The connecting link is that all these three new protagonists of the market are not real but something that represents the real. In other words money, information and image are signifiers of something else.

 Money in itself is useless unless it represents other resources. Money cannot fill the stomach or quench thirst unless someone is ready to exchange the real resources (ie food, drink, clothing, commodities etc) for money. Money is not wealth. It is something which signifies wealth, consisting of material things and services necessary for the survival and improvement of living conditions. It is the same with information. Information becomes important because it tells us about something else that exists in reality: about things, processes, situations, people, contexts etc. An image is some visual or perception that represents something else: a person, a situation, an idea etc. They are all in a sense mediums of exchange. In any society, social, political and economic exchanges and negotiations happen through these signifiers that serve as the medium of exchange. The story of each civilization is also the story of different kinds of mediations that serve social, political and economic functions in a given society at a particular time. From ancient rock paintings and pictograms, indigenous modes of social exchange and barter systems of exchange, socio-cultural history evolved to innovate mediums and modes of exchange. The barter system gave way to metallic forms of representation like coins and later paper money, and then plastic money, which is giving way to the concept of info-money.

One can trace a parallel socio-historical process that has helped to collate information from local specificity and utilities to a broader arena of dissemination. This happened in the case of images as well, starting with images of the divine, going on to those of the king, and later becoming a broader socio-cultural phenomenon.

So what is so peculiar about the present predominance of the three key signifiers --- information, money and images -- in our lives? It has, after all, been a fairly long historical process. The key difference is that earlier there was a very strong and balanced link between the signifier and the signified; between paper money and the resources it signified; between information and the reality the information sought to convey; between the image and the situation or the person behind the image. With the dotcom revolution, the free-floating money market and image merchandising, this vital link has been considerably strained. In the process money has taken precedence over resources, information has taken precedence over real life, and image has taken precedence over reality. When the medium itself becomes the message, those who control the `mediation' become powerful. That is why Rupert Murdoch becomes more powerful than citizens or even political rulers. Because it is not the what and why of information that matters, it is the how of information delivery that defines the information itself. When the means itself becomes an end, the end becomes redundant. Why has the sensex all of a sudden turned so sexy? Because the sensex operates on money, information and images.
If there is a comparative advantage of market information and corporate image, the money market is influenced. In the early-'90s, there was a lot of money market euphoria over the image boost of the `tiger' economies. The image of skyscrapers, hi-tech flyovers and swanky cars in Bangkok and Jakarta propelled the money market to new heights. But the hi-tech image of Bangkok concealed the ugly face of poverty-stricken villages in northern Thailand. Information about macro-economic growth in terms of GDP and GNP said little about the increasing vulnerability of the rural masses.

Image, information and the money market reinforced each other. The high sensex ratings did not have a strong connection with real productivity, natural resources and the distribution of services. For instance, during the financial boom in Thailand, agricultural production actually declined and the manufacturing sector was more or less stagnant. The magic sensex euphoria had more to do with the pattern of spending money in the consumer market than the pattern of productivity that creates real material wealth. Eventually, the `tiger' turned out to be so much market bubblegum.

 In India recently the sensex rating of infotech companies rose to magical heights, creating a whole string of dotcom dreams. The dominant images of infotech companies and the favourable information flow helped increase the vigour of the money market. Here the problem is that finance capital gets value addition without a corresponding increase in real assets or productivity. The ever-growing finance capital market is increasingly becoming a global casino driven by information and images. Speculative strategies and money laundering are akin to gambling. When the link between money/currency and the productive assets/resources it seeks to represent is broken, the economic foundations of a society become precarious. With the mind-boggling growth of a pure money market, the very future of the so-called global economy is on shifting sands.

The so-called movement of international capital is more a movement of magic numbers in the computer system and on the information highways than a real movement of commodities, services and goods. In a traditional economic setting, the creation of money is intrinsically linked to the creation of real wealth or productive assets. Money is created in balanced proportion to allow for the effective exchange of goods and services. Under finance capitalism, driven by a sort of monetarism, this vital link between money and real material resources is broken. As a result, one can create financial assets through market gambling, without making any real contribution to the creation of wealth. In this process those who have a comparative advantage over information and image can manipulate money market, with more claims to wealth but without actually creating any wealth.

Such a delusion of wealth in fact further marginalises the bargaining power of the real wage-earners, labourers and entrepreneurs who are involved in the creation of real wealth. In the stock market, the money that is invested to buy a new issue of a company is what is used for productive assets. Other stock transactions are not always linked to the creation of productive resources. One study on US corporations shows that in terms of the money that corporations use to support the expansion of their production, only 4 per cent comes from the share market; most of the money comes from the retained earnings and the lion's share of the rest comes from borrowings. In a sense the ongoing dotcom euphoria is a corollary to finance-driven sensex capitalism.

In a speculative market, one expects high returns. It has been reported that in recent years, the highest investment returns in the US were in the finance sector. Similarly, the high-pitched images of dotcom money-making kids propelled a gold rush to the information highways. As the dominant image of quick returns is in favour of the finance and information sectors, a large number of highly qualified and high-calibre people jumped from the real process of asset creation to that of a much quicker process of making money in the finance and information sector. Hence, the visible boom in the finance and information sector may also undermine the real validity of actual resources. As a result, those who control the mediation of finance and information become much more powerful than the real producers of material and social resources.

This will create development delusions based on the well-being and welfare of a section of visible people, wonder stories and magic entrepreneurs. We may be thrilled about the fact that anything can be ordered through the Internet, provided you have access to plastic money through credit cards. But we may also conveniently forget that the dotcom revolution will bring food, water and sex to only a privileged few who have access to technology and plastic money. The dotcom revolution will not bring food to a hungry child or water to a thirsty village. Because they neither have access to the technology nor to plastic money, though they contribute more than the info-entrepreneurs to the real production of real material and social resources.

That is how the signifiers actually swallow the signified. That is how the mediators of information, money and images become more powerful than the creators and producers of real material or social assets. These days the frequently quoted one-line rationale for the marketing of information is that `Information is Power'. So get dotcommed and get empowered. It's as simple as that! In that case, all that we need to empower the people of the world is to ensure that like water, electricity and telephone connections, everyone will have dotcom connections as well. But alas our problems are more complex. They will not be wished away with online mantras. If information is indeed power, why has the ongoing information revolution not brought about a socio-political revolution? Why is it that wider information dissemination manages to inform but fails to empower ? Why is the right to information failing to check corruption in governance?

The questions we need to ask are: In whose hands does information become powerful? Who controls, disseminates and mediates information? What is the difference between data, information and knowledge? Who controls the production and dissemination of knowledge? Such questions will ensure that we are not carried away by the dotcom syndrome. Such questions are age-old questions that arose at every historical juncture and political transition. What we need to realise is that information in itself may not have intrinsic value. Information derives importance because of the fact that it helps us understand something else in a given context. It is the `mediation' process of information that makes information powerful. Hence, it is not necessarily the consumers of information who get empowered, it is the merchants, traders and brokers of information who get empowered. By controlling information they can control the market as well as power politics. When an election survey is commissioned by a major newspaper or a popular newsmagazine, it is not the readers of these magazines who become powerful, but the editors and owners of the newsmagazines.

This comparative advantage of `mediating' and `brokering' information is what makes them the power-brokers who bargain their way to ministerial chairs and the backdoor of parliament. One of the biggest information banks is controlled by the financial banks which control plastic money--Citibank, Standard Chartered, American Express etc. They know who buys what, when, where and how. By interpreting their data the bank can also know why a particular group of people buys a particular product. Yes, in the hands of media empires, software companies, market enterprises and political power-brokers, information becomes powerful; because they are in the business of mediating and controlling information. Meanwhile, the consumers of information have only the illusion of empowerment.

We have to make a distinction between data, information and knowledge. Data byitself does not necessarily convey much. For instance, if one has the data on primary school enrollment, one does not necessarily get a picture of primary education in the country. When one contextualises the data in a particular situation, the data becomes information. If one contextualises the data of primary school enrollment in a particular district or state in the overall context of literacy levels, social development etc, that data makes sense. When you interpret the data with a particular political, ideological or analytical framework, information is transformed into modules of knowledge. Hence the interpretation of information on primary school enrollment may be different for people with differing ideological or analytical perspectives. Knowledge is often value-loaded. That is why the leftists, rightists and liberals interpret historical information in entirely different ways. That is why fanatical Hindutva elements were worried about the `knowledge' propounded by an Amartya Sen, Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra or Irfan Habib. The actual powerplay is not in the information market but in the production and dissemination of knowledge. In a way, Ignatius Loyola is one of the most powerful visionaries in history; precisely because he identified the power of disseminating knowledge through the institutionalisation and control of education.

In fact, colonisation was not merely about the extraction of goods and resources, it was about the production and creation of a market for the knowledge system that ensured hegemony through creating consent. All of history is recorded and interpreted in order to sustain political power. The dotcom revolution is going to lead to even more information anarchy.

The global information order will thrive on the confusion propelled by that anarchy. Information anarchy and information order are in fact two sides of the same coin. At the receiving end there will be so much information output that one will find it difficult to know what is useful and what is junk. One will have no time to interpret such information and transform it into a strong knowledge base. On the contrary, the information explosion via your dotcom receiver can create a sort of information-immunity wherein the information will fail to affect your feeling, thinking and action.

 Now there is so much information about corruption, people are no longer shocked by any scams; they have got used to it. It is not because of lack of information that Dalits are still burnt alive in India, but because information about atrocities and arson no longer shocks you; you have got used to it. The emerging information order, finance market capitalism and image-driven politics will in the
long run create more social and political insecurity in real life. Because the delusions of development,wealth and participation they create will not effectively change the ground realities of inequality, mistrust, social paranoia and moral degeneration. When a signifier eclipses the signified and the link between them is broken, it will create a crisis in the very process of socio-political and economic exchange. In the new age, it is the comparative advantage of technology and time that determines the `mediation' process of money, information and images. However, the overemphasis of such technology-driven mediation can in effect adversely affect the real creative and productive potential of human beings. Such a scenario calls for an urgent rethink on the present information euphoria.

Orginally published in the Human Scape Magazine in  June 2000.