Sunday, July 20, 2014

A short note on Gandhi - the self-scripted Myth.

John Samuel 

Gandhi was one of the few leaders who wrote the script of his own myth making. It is also interesting to see how Gandhi evolved as a metaphor of change and myth at the same time by combining non-conformism and conformism, political ethics as well as political tactics and innovative modes of communicative action and advocacy. Gandhi on the one hand was a social conservative and on the other hand an ardent critic of colonial imperialism and cultural hegemony of the west. His relevance is that he was less a man of political theory and more a practitioner of counter discourse to the hegemonic European models of political theories. His relevance was also due to the fact that he combined local modes of expressions with an international perspective ( he is the only one leader who spent time of his socialisation in an Indian village, London and South Africa where he developed an intimate understanding of how power and discrimination operate in an experiential form) and his own political perspective was influenced by eclectic sources ( vedic, Buddhist,Christian and also the works of Tolstoy and CS Lewis etc) and he developed a counter discourse to the western secular liberal modes of democracy with actually a politics ethics derived from plural religious discourse ( non-secular) within the larger framework of popular Hinduism. Hence, he used popular Hindu expressions ( Rama Rajya, raj dharma, etc etc) to communicate to the masses. All his locations, dress code, language,the modes of struggles, Charkah etc helped to make him a self-scripted myth from 1917 to 48. While he communicated to the common masses in their language , he made it a point to write, speak and publish in English for the international audience. He proposed a socio-political ethical framework ( rather than a coherent political theory of the state or change)drawing from Indian as well as non Indian sources . All these international aura, combined with that of a social reformer, political activist and ability to build pragmatic consensus made his referential power. Gandhi was deliberately walking in to history with self conscious mode of myth making , confident action and pragmatic politics. This is what made him different from all his contemporaries in the freedom struggle in India and internationally. Gandhi not only became a historical myth but also became the most known figure and face of the brand India. When people in Latin America or Africa or elsewhere think of India it is the 'shirt-less' Gandhi and the white Tajmahal that they remember. Gandhi was more concerned about 'followers' and the irony is that none ' followed' the person called Gandhi and everyone pretended to follow the myth called Gandhi. And Myths don't actually need followers as they take the escalator to the pantheons necessary to the construction of the megamyth of the nationstate. The spaces for Ho Chimin, Mao, Lincoln and Mandela or for that matter Che or Lenin is on the walls of the establishment of the state and not necessarily in the hearts of ordinary people. Gandhi too transcended people and now the officially institutionalised myth of the nation-state called India and more relevant to the Indian currency as well.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Budget as an art of Delusion and Political Subversion




                                                                                                      John Samuel


The first-budget of the new government is an exercise in the art of delusions. On the one hand, the budget tends to give  policy signals to the core  political constituencies of the  BJP and on the other hand  thee budget is more of  recycling of the very same policy paradigm of the UPA II and this budget looks more like that of UPAIII mode with a saffron wrapper. “This is a budget which could have well been presented by the UPA itself and I am happy the Finance Minister is keeping to the fiscal deficit target, and hope he achieves it,'' the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told NDTV in his response to the first budget unveiled by the Narendra Modi government.

 However, if one reads the budget in the context of the series of policy pronouncements and  tactical policy ‘leaks’ including the IB Report on NGOs etc, one can see the emergence of a  new brand of subversive politics.  In the last two months governments already gave indications of the policy priorities such as allowing FDI in defence and insures sector, environmental clearances for big corporate ventures, allowing hike in prices of non-subsidized LPG cylinders, raising train fares by 14.2 percent and freight rates by 6.5 percent,  privatisation of services in the railways and declaring potato and onion as essential commodities by bringing them under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA).  While the budget gives the semblance of ‘continuity with change’ and high  on pro-poor and pro-people  rhetoric,  this budget in a way is also  a curtain-raiser to the forthcoming budget and policy shifts in 2015 and the consequent shift in the policy paradigm of the Modi- government.

1. A Sandwich policy approach to  ‘development’
 This government has been trying to juggle around three layers of policy and political approaches. On the foreground, the government gives an impression of a pro-growth neo-liberal ‘developmentalism’ along with a high dose of rhetoric on ‘good governance’ (or with less government and more governance). In a sense this neo-liberal ‘good governance’ development is nothing but a rehash of the same old pro-rich, pro-growth, pro-FDI mode that Manmohan Singh- Alhuwalia and Chidambaram advocated for the last twenty years. However, beneath this foreground of the ‘continuity’ of neo-liberal economic policies, there is another layer of pro-crony capitalist accommodative Hindu nationalism that seeks to enrich few corporate houses and few sections of the society. And the base structure of this three-tier sandwich approach is the hard-core hindutva politics of ‘exclusion’.  One has to situate the budget in the context of the larger political economy of the majority political party that controls the government and also see how multiple modes of  subversions is  used to create a sense of ‘good-governance- development’ delusion

The three tier sandwich  approach of the policy and governance of the government seeks to address  four different set of constituencies a) the neo-middle class( or emerging middle class) in the urban-transitions in India; b)the big rich corporate houses with crony capitalist tendencies that in many ways supported the election machine  of major political parties with money and media; c)  the  soft-Hindu nationalist neo-liberal constituency that hope to get more jobs from the possible economic growth and d) the hard-hindutva constituency that advocates an assertive  Sangh Parviar politics of exclusion. The government seeks to use different language register and different modes of policy rhetoric to satisfy different set of constituencies woven together during the last election.  On the one hand these policy rhetoric and policy priorities give hints to different constituencies and on the other hand the government generally project a ‘liberal’ positioning in the broader constituencies at the national level. This mock-liberal posturing often tend create a delusions about ‘development’, ‘democracy’ and ‘governance’. Because of this ‘mock-liberal’ veneer above the hard-hindutva political core and because of the continuity with the neo-liberal policy modes of UPA II, even the main opposition party tends to be more benign as well as confused in their response to the Union Budget as well as the macro-political posturing of the government.  In that sense, this Budget is also an indication of this politics of subversion and politics of ‘mock-liberal’ delusions.
This government has come to power making high promises of reducing prices, reducing inflation, increasing economic growth, ensuring transparency and accountability and effective means to address corruption. However, if we take a closer look at the policy priorities there is so far no clear sense that government is making concerted effort to fulfill any of these promises.  This budget too does not give any indication any broad policy framework to address any of these issues. While it is true that this budget may not have the space to move drastically from the vote-on accounts budget presented by Chidambaram in March 2014, there is hardly any significant shift beyond an effort to  ‘pay’ back those big business corporate that lend a ‘helping-hand’ to the election campaign. There is also an effort to send signals and messages to the core constituencies and the ‘new’ constituencies of the emerging Modi brand of politics.

If we further deconstruct the budget signals, it is clear how the budget speech sent clear signal to each of the four ‘special’ constituencies. The neo-middle class (or those who have at an average monthly income of Rs 20000) got a tax exemption by increasing the taxable annual personal income from 2 lakhs to 2.5 lakhs and corresponding tax exemption  to the senior citizens. The ‘housing for all’ by 2022 is also policy rhetoric to send signals to the neo-middle class constituency.  The big business corporations and the rich and powerful also get tax-exemption (largely excise and custom duties) in the tune Rs 5.2 lakhs.  The signalling of the big-ticket investment in smart urban centres (Rs 7060 crore for hundred smart cities), increasing the FDI cap from 26 per cent to 49 percent in the defense manufacturing and insurance sector, and the intentions to increase the number elite institutions such as IITs, IIMs, and AIMS send signals to the upward mobile middle class that seeks to have more ‘professional jobs’ and a greater pie from the urban-centre economic growth model of the neo-liberal variety. The soft- Hindu nationalism of this class gets addressed through liberal allocation for the ‘unity’ (though the term is ironic) of Saradar Vallabhai Patel and also for more war memorials. The co-option of Vallabhai Patel from the history of Congress Party and the signifier of ‘war memorials’ as a sign of patriotism send signals to the pro-neo liberal ‘ Shining India’ class that BJP always sought to pamper.  At the same time the government also send positive signals to the core Sangh Parivar constituency by appointing those with such ideological position to key posts such as the Chair Person of the ICHR- and also by saffron wrapping to few new programmes in the name Shayma Prasad Mookerjee, Deendayal Upadhaya, Madan Mohan Malavya gave signals to the core Sangh –parivar Hindutva constituencies.
While the Rs 7060 crore allocated for the  hundred smart city projects is an allocation of an average of only Rs 70 crore per city, it seems the government hopes to get to the tune Rs 60,000 crore per city as new investment or Foreign Direct investment.  Since the government will not have such resources to fund the development of full-fledged infrastructure of hundred smart cities, one is still not clear where will such a huge investment come from.  The government largely signalled investment in infrastructure development and also some new investments in  renewable  source of energy such as solar power.  A total allocation of Rs 37,880 Crore (including Rs 3000 for North-East) for fast-track highways and improving road infrastructure too is more or less in line with the policy frame work of UPAII.  In spite of the hope of getting new FDI in core sectors such as defence industries, insurance and the intention to  invest significantly in the new infrastructure projects, one is not yet sure the projected economic growth will be achieved in the next couple of years. The overall direction seems to be reducing the direct tax, increase the indirect taxes (expecting Rs 7,525 crore more  from this), more disinvestment and more non-tax revenue along with the reduction of expenditure in a cumulative manner. Though allocation for most of the flagship programmes( MGNREGS, food subsidy, NRLM, NRHM) are more or less maintained as in the interim budget,  given the track record there is a chance of significant reduction in revised estimates, particularly in the enthusiasm to cut expenditure and fiscal deficit. So, overall the first budget of the Modi government looks more like the old wine in a new bottle with a saffron wrapper, devoid of any new economic or political imagination.

 Does the Budget address the key social and economic Challenges of India?
The key question is to what extent the Union Budget seeks to address some of the major challenges in the political economy of India.  As per the latest Human Development Index (HDI) India ranked 136th among the 186 countries reported in the UNDP- Human Development Report (2013). The health and education indicators of India are below than many countries in South Asia and also to many of the developing countries.  Every third illiterate person in the world is an Indian and more than 80 million children in the school-going age are out of school and it is reported that more 35 % of the students drop out before reaching class VIII.   India has one of the highest infant (and maternal mortality rate in the world; Infant mortality rate of 44 per 1000 live birth in 2011 and maternal mortality ratio at 178 in 2010-2012, far behind the global targets. The reported unemployment rate (as per the current daily status) is 5.6%, though the real figures may be much higher in most of the states of India. A major issue that has immense implication for the political economy of India is the growing inequality in India. As per the analysis of the National Sample Survey, the spending gap between the rich and the poor in India almost doubled in the last five years. The monthly per capita consumption expenditure of the top five percent of the rich   in urban areas is 14.7 % more than the bottom five per cent of the population. In rural area the top five percent of the rich consumes 9 times more than those at the bottom five per cent of the poor.  The economic inequality combined with social inequality also creates the conditions for the politics of exclusion. Most of those at the receiving end of socio-economic inequality and exclusion happened to be those from the marginalised communities such as Dalits, Adivasies and minorities in India. The challenges faced by economy are many. The high rate of inflation, particularly food-price inflation of 9.5 per cent, and the consequent increase in price of food and essential commodities will undermine the household economy of a large majority of poor and marginalised people.  The economic growth rate also has been suboptimal and the rate of GDP growth is at 4.5 percent in 2012-2013 and 4.7 percent in 2013-14 further took away jobs of many people, particularly in the manufacturing sector. The industrial growth is more or less stagnated (provisionally estimated at 0.5 percent). While the growth rate of agricultural sector is still around 4 percent, as per the latest economic survey, the growth of tertiary sector is 9 percent, though even there is a job-less growth.  While the Economic Survey identified some of these issues, and there is a liberal use of high rhetoric in the budget speech to identify some of these issues, the budget priorities in themselves do not give any adequate indication to address some of these challenges. While the budget has more or less retained or marginally increased the budget allocation for the MGNREG(34000 crore) and for food subsidy(1.15 lakh crore),  there is hardly any new initiative to address some of the debilitating challenges to the social and economic development of India.  Many of the farmers organisations and Dalits organisations have already pointed out the inadequate allocation for agricultural and allied services and also the much less than proportionate allocation for the Special component plans for SCs and STs. The budget does not do justice to the Agricultural and Allied Sectors, Rural Development and Social Services.  There is also a concern that the proposed reduction of petroleum subsidies by Rs 22,054 will lead to further increase in the cost of transports, irrigation and resultant increase in food price. Given the near-drought situation and given the over-optimistic revenue estimation, the chances are the economic growth will be below the projected level of above five percent and  the chances are that there will be further decrease in budget allocation for social sector in the revised estimates. So , despite the high rhetoric,  the budget does not give any sense of economic or political imagination to boost growth or to increase taxation or to ensure strategic redistributive framework to address the causes and consequences of poverty and marginalisation in India. 

Whose Budget is it any way?
The total size of the Union Budget  ( 2014-15)  is Rs 17.94 lakh crore, slightly higher than the figure of interim budget of Rs 17. 63 lakhs crore.   However, the total expenditure from the Union Budget in 2014-15 would be 13.9 % of GDP, which is visibly lower than the 15.7 % of GDP in 2013-14 (Revised Estimates), further shrinking  the fiscal policy space available to the government. Of this increase  between the interim budget and the main budget, of Rs. 31000 crore, two-third is in the Plan Expenditure domain (going up from Rs. 5.55 lakh crore to Rs. 5.75 lakh crore) while the remaining one third has gone up in the Non-Plan Expenditure part (from Rs. 12.07 lakh crore to Rs. 12.19 lakh crore. While the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley  gave a road map of fiscal consolidation over a period of next three years , there is no indication of the comparable increase in the revenue.  He on the one hand follows the Chidambaram-line of cutting fiscal deficit to 4.1 per cent of GDP  in 2014-15 an on the other hand  he proposes to reduce from  the  proposed 4.6% this year  to 3 percent in 2016-17; and reduction of revenue deficit from 3.3 percent to 1.6 percent in three years.  During the next three years, the gross tax revenue is expected raise from 10.2 percent in 2013-14 to only 11.2 percent in 2016-17. This means, there will be sharp decrease in expenditure in the years. And the indication is that the sharp decrease in expenditure would further erode the budget allocation for social sector, human development and eradication of poverty.  There is already a constructed ‘consensus’ built through the pro-neoliberal media discourse against ‘subsidies’. Though this budget has not drastically reduced subsidies, however the ‘targeted’ subsidies and also ‘freeing’ up the diesel price etc are indication of reduction of subsidies that will have implication for the rural poor and farmers in India.
When it comes to revenue there are clear indications of who is being favoured.  While the neo-middle class got a bit of tax concession raising the tax-bar from Rs 2 laks to 2.5 lakhs, the major beneficiary of the tax concessions are the rich and powerful corporate houses of India.  While there is  a tax concession of around 40,000 crore to middle class, there is a tax concession of a whopping Rs 5.32 lakhs to the rich business corporations of India. This tax-write off is from the direct corporate income tax, customs and excise duties.  This include writing off 76,116 crore of the corporate income tax and forgoing Rs 1, 95, 679 crore excise duty and giving away Rs 2,60, 714 crores of custom duty. In 2012-13, the total revenue foregone in favour of the rich was Rs 566, 235 crore and the total revenue foregone in  2013-14 was Rs  572, 924 crore( 5% of the GDP). In an incise analysis of the pro-rich tax regime, P Sainath has pointed out that  from 2005-06 onwards , over a period of nine years, the government of India written off tax worth Rs 36.5 lakh crore and sixth of that is just corporate income tax.  If one considers the present allocation Rs 1.15 lakh core for Public Distribution System, the cumulative tax concession of Rs 36.5 Lakh crore would have been  good enough to run the PDS for the next 31 years or for that matter MNREGS( current allocation of around Rs 34,000 crore)  could have been run for 105 years. As Sainath has rightly pointed out the real continuity between UPA  and the present government is that both favoured the rich and powerful corporate business houses.  While the governments gave huge tax concessions to the rich and powerful corporate business there was no dearth in the pro-poor rhetoric along with reduction of expenditure for social sector. It has been pointed out that the amount written off in favour of the rich corporations in 2013-14 is 132 percent more than the tax concessions to them in 2005-06.  This trend clearly shows the politics of budget. There is high rhetoric in  the budget speech favour of poor and ‘marginalised’ and there is high tax concession to the rich and powerful and there is marginal concession to the neo-middle class. While in the budget estimates, there is allocation for the social sector, often in the revised estimates these allocation decreases.
India has one of the lowest Taxes –GDP ratio among the emerging economies.  The central tax-GDP ratio fell from 10.2 percent in 2012-13 to 10 per cent in 2013-14.  This is largely due to the fall in excise and customs duty collection and forgoing corporate income tax. The relatively less Tax-GDP ratio adversely affect the fiscal policy space available to the government for ensuring adequate resources for social protection and public provisioning of basic right to education, health and shelter, particularly to the poor and marginalised sections of people.
 While the intentions to increase investment in the road network, hundred new smart cities and exploring the options for renewable energy give the intentions to work towards the economic growth, the tendency of more tax exemption for the rich and possible reduction of the effective allocation for social protection point out to the political bias towards the rich and urban middle class sections of the people. This class forms hardly less than fifteen percent of the population. Unless there is new investment to regenerate rural economy, sustainable agriculture,  and social –economic infrastructure to include the large majority of the poor and marginalised sections( including rural farmers, dalits , Adivasies and minorities), India will not be able to increase the human development index or reduce the alarming level of social and economic inequality in this country. The question remains whether the rhetoric are for the masses and the larger policy framework is meant for the ‘shining India’ class of articulate urban class of India.  The chances are that the present budget is merely a curtain raiser to a three –tier approach of combining pro-‘shining India’ class neo-liberal economic policy along with comforting the soft-Hindu Nationalist aspiring ‘mock-liberal’ middle class and actually serving the core Sangh Parviar agenda through political and policy subversion. The mock-liberal veneer could be a sign of the ‘good days’ to come to make the ‘Shining India’ class happy, though the poor and marginalised will be put under the carpet of high rhetoric on ‘development’ and ‘good governance’


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Notes on Politics of Sports and language of Violence

John Samuel

Why is it that there is so much use of the language of aggressive violence in the way each of the games of World Cup is being reported?  As the mania of the spectacle of the Brazil  World Cup begins to unfold within and among  us, the language of violence ( such as rape, aggression, massacre, or blood stain, war front) infiltrates in to our sense and sensibilities without us even realizing it. These metaphors of violence are at the core of the DNA of not only the world Cup, but also all other high profile sports events. Because all sports events are the 'demonstration' of power of and by the modern 'construct' of nation-state around which our identities are 'established' through 'identification' and markers of 'legal' personality with an  offer of 'freedom' through instilling 'fear' and ensuring a presence of 'credible' threat. The project of nation-state operates through a combo package of 'fear', 'freedom', 'security' and 'services'- and all these get demonstrated with an element  of entertainment of 'seductive' spectacle of the institutionalized power. The parade of ‘Guns’ and armed ‘vehicles’ and ‘macho’ machines during the republic parades are also combined to give us these ‘entertaining spectacles’ of aggressive potential. And another such entertainment of demonstrating the macho-power of the ‘collective’ identity of nation-state is the high profile ‘sports’ events. Politics of nation-state and politics of sports are the two sides of the same coin of how power operates within us and among us.

All sports events are a demonstration of such power to 'entertain' and 'seduce' us by 'showing' off the power of nation-state in a full-fledged manner. The politics of sports have three dimensions:

 1) The aggression of adrenaline- wherein there is a 'macho' celebration- and in a way the manifestation of entrenched patriarchy in the way many of the popular games (foot ball, cricket etc) being projected as a 'male' domain. It is the most evident spectacle of the male-centred ‘sexuality’ and sports become another demonstration of ‘sex’ and ‘sexuality’. And there is an element of ‘seduction’ in all such sports events. There is a combination of pornography and politics operate in the way Sports events are marketed and manifested. We all get ‘hooked’, we get ‘excited’ about the demonstration of adrenaline when a goal is scored in the most-televised sports event in history.
 2) The politics of international sports (Olympics, World Cup etc) is also a reflection of 'macho' chivalry of the 'nation-state'. The logic of a nation-state is built on the ideology of 'aggression' and 'protection'. The project of the 'nation-state' and its earlier avatars of 'king'dom(never the 'queendom) and empires are all built on the idea of 'war'( a male game of aggression and aggrandizement) and 'peace'- as protection. In a way, the logic of old pirates and the present organised 'gang' is also based on the same political sub-text of 'aggressive violence and 'protection' for a payment. In a way, the very same logic operates at the core of the nation-state. It is the army and police (largely male bastions) that give the 'muscle' to the nation-state. And the entire enterprise survives on 'credible' threats to the 'external' as well as 'internal' enemies of the state. And offering a package combination of 'potential' threat and assured 'security'. The 'nation-state' displays its macho power during the display of 'guns', arms and ammunition ( all of them have male connotation) on 'republic ‘day 'parade'. So sports is often an extension of the same logic( as the Colloseum and gladiators so well demonstrated during the Roman empire) - and sports is a reflection of 'war' by other means. Hence, the USA, China and Russia invested so much in sports. The Olympics in china was also about the announcement that 'China' has arrived as a global hegemonic actor


3) And the third dimension is that Sports is now a modern market 'service' of 'play' pay' and get entertainment.The World Cup and all other marketed sports events are about creating a spectacle and selling them wholesale to the world. Here too advertisement and 'corporate' image gets aggressively pushed and media become the 'pimp' of the 'seductive' market. So in a sense it is in events like the World Cup, that the multiple metaphors military, and media and market operate within us and through us to eternally seduce us and show us how adrenaline operate within us, within the notion of the nation-state and within the dominant power paradigm that we all have been forced to internalize for thousands of years. So as the World Cup is all about 'rape', massacre', 'killing', 'fucked' and 'blood-stains'. The  media sells these 'war metaphors and we too begin to swallow them without even realizing that we are ' swallowing the most institutionalized notions of 'macho' male power.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Managing Social-Change Organisations

JOHN SAMUEL
Conceptual Premises
It is very important to develop conceptual clarity and consensus regarding what is broadly classified or denoted as voluntary organisation as differentiated from Non Governmental Organisation and Non-Profit Organisation. While it is difficult to have an absolute or universal definition, one can think of an operational definition for these terms. Many a times the assumptions behind the use of the terms voluntary organisations, NGOs, and non-profit organisations vary according to the particular national, cultural and political context in which they are being signified.
The term 'voluntary' signifies an ethical and moral position rather than a structural or management aspect. Hence it is important to make a conceptual distinction between Voluntary Organisation NGOs and Non-profit organisation. While the term NGO denotes a 'relational' category, assuming an identity in terms being not governmental, the term 'non-profit' has more of an economic all or commercial connotation.
Voluntary Organisation may be described as a group of people coming together or an organisation or an institution initiated on the basis of commitment to the cause of the underprivileged sections of the society and on the basis of a set of values like public interest, service, transparency, participation and accountability. People who are working in such organisations may be compensated for their time and efforts, but their basic motivation and the principles of organisation and management are based on the commitment and values of voluntarism and not on monetary benefits or incentives. While such organisations may receive funds, without compromising the values, they are not fund-driven organisations.
Values of Voluntarism
The values and principles of Voluntarism include:
·         voluntary formation and an element of voluntary participation
·         not for the personal or private profit or gain of those who control and manage the affairs and not self-serving
·         a deep commitment to public interest and public good, especially a commitment to safeguard the rights of the under privileged and to work for the betterment of the marginalized sections of the society
·         a respect for the rights, culture and dignity of men and women, including the staff, served or affected by the work of the organisation, taking into consideration their special needs and abilities
·         secular and non-partisan approach
·         devoting the maximum possible proportion of resources available to the task at hand
·         ensuring that the organisation remains true to its mission and objectives, that its identity, integrity, methods and activities are not distorted, subverted or taken over or corrupted by external or internal personal or organizational self-interest
·         Maintaining high ethical standards at both an organizational and personal level.
Often such values and commitment are kept alive by a core-group or key persons who initiate the process of organisation building and help permeate the ethos of voluntarism in the organizational and working culture.
The social sector, consisting of social action groups, voluntary organisations, developmental organisations, training and research institutions represent a very heterogeneous arena of interests, issues and ideologies. There is also an increasing trend to promote 'NGOs' for protecting the interest of the government, business houses and corporate interests. Hence it is very important to comprehend the complexities and contradictions existing in the so-called 'NGO' sector and to distinguish between the organisations based on the principles and practice of voluntarism and other organisations that place more emphasis on utilitarian culture and market values for , delivering' the goods.
Governance
The management, administrative and programme practices and policies depend to a great extent on the framework' and manner of governance. Hence it is of crucial importance to develop statutory and institutional framework that would ensure an efficient, ethical and transparent manner of governance. The clarity of vision and mission of the organisation is a pre-requisite for the good governance of an organisation.
A good policy for governance would guarantee internal as well as external accountability of the organisation; internal accountability of the staff and management for the task they are entrusted
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with and external accountability to the public and constituency for the cause and values the organisation represents; and finally accountability to the donors as well funding agencies for the money received for implementing a programme or project.
A good policy for governance would emphasize the responsibility of organisations and institutions towards its employees, staff and 'workers'; including the responsibility to ensure a work culture based on principles of equal opportunity, gender sensitivity, and responsibility to provide congenial working environment that would encourage efficiency, integrity and commitment and would discourage any partisan, biased or discriminatory management practices.
The values such as transparency, participation, public interest should reflect in the governing policies of voluntary organisations and should be translated into the organizational and programme practices. Good practice of governance would also encourage secular and non­partisan organizational characteristics and approach.
It is very important to incorporate adequate and appropriate provisions in the charter or memorandum of association of the organisations so that principles and values of voluntarism become a legitimate and obligatory measure for a good policy and practice of governance.
The Board members will have a very important role in upholding the organizational values and commitment in their functions and responsibilities. Unless the board members are vigilant about safeguarding the vision, integrity, efficiency and values of voluntarism through initiating timely and appropriate organizational policies, many of organisations and institutions would become the victims and causalities of the internal bureaucracy and power struggle of vested interests.
The Board members should ensure that:
·         High Standards of planning, operation, administration, evaluation and reporting are maintained in the organisation
·         all statutory obligations are met and   adequate resources are available to the organisation for all aspects of   its work and administration

·         the resources provided to the organisation are used for their intended
          purpose and are properly accounted for
Organisational Integrity
Organisations and organizational leaders should practice what they preach. With an increasing flow of funds and substantial increase in infrastructure facilities, many organisations are facing
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The danger of hyper -institutionalization at the cost of the values, cause and issues they claim to represent or stand for. This also leads to the weaning away of organizational transparency and accountability.
Public interest VS Institutional Interest VS Self-Interest of Organisational Leaders
The integrity of an organisation to a great extent is determined by or depends on whether the organisation represents and stands for the public interest, or it is engulfed in institutional interest or being used for the self interest of the organizational leaders. The integrity of a voluntary organisation is adversely affected when institutional interest of the organisation takes precedence over the public interest or the cause; and organizational integrity would be in peril when the self interests of the leaders take precedence over both the public interest and institutional interest.
For safeguarding the organizational integrity, it is imperative to develop effective policy regarding the appropriate use of resources and infrastructure facilities. It is equally important to develop and enforce standardized norms and practices that would guard against the misuse or disproportionate use of any organizational resource or facility for the self interest of any senior management staff or board members.
It is very important to develop and maintain voluntary organisations that would be public (as distinct from private) in its scope, structure and principles. This aspect is all the more important in the South Asian context, wherein many organisations, began as voluntary and public initiative,
are gradually turning into instruments or institutions that serve personal or family interests of a single organizational leader or a handful of key actors on the Board of Trustees or Directors.
Management Practice and Team Building
A good management Practice should ensure Efficiency, Effectiveness and Accountability at all levels, and the organizational ability to deliver results without compromising the values and ethics of voluntarism. Professional attitude is absolutely necessary for good management practice. Planning, performance, monitoring and credible account practice should be an integral part of management. Half yearly and annual performance reports and consistent analysis of the expenditure pattern of the organisation would help understand the strengths and limitations of management practice. A decentralized, task oriented and functional management approach would be more relevant in the context of voluntary organisations.
It is important to develop multiple leadership roles for a more participatory management practice. A management practice centered on just one charismatic leader would be adverse to the sustainability and the growth of organisation in the long run. For ensuring the continuity of the task as well as the organizational goals and objectives, it is very much necessary to develop a second cadre of leadership at various levels of governance, administration and programmes of the organisation. The basis for the leadership in the organisations should emanate from competence, commitment to the organizational values and cause, efficiency, effectiveness, decision making capacities and ability for teamwork, rather than the family, class, caste or regional affiliations.
The very term 'human resource' is based on the assumption that staff are a 'resource' that would maximize the productivity or results of the organisation. For evolving a good management practice, the employees or staff should be considered as 'subjects' who are participating and are involved in the process of bringing about positive social change, rather than 'resources' that would increase the organizational 'productivity' or 'objects' that could be used for organizational ends. Good management practice should provide an enabling and motivating working environment to the staff A well defined and clear personal policy, with standardized service terms and salary structure, would be essential to maintain a good personal management practice. A good personal policy can serve as a very fruitful corollary to a management practice that gives emphasis to team building and team development. Team building is a process of continuous diagnosis, action planning, implementation and evaluation. A cardinal principle of effective team functioning is that members must be highly concerned with both their own needs and those of others. One important aspect of team building is helping a team develop a 'model of excellence' against which it can measure its own performance.
Instead of encouraging big monolithic organizational structures with thousands of employees and 'labourers', it would be more appropriate and effective to develop organisations with decentralized budgeting and operation with number of effective 'teams' working together for a common cause.
A good management practice would incorporate some of the following characteristics of team work:
·          The team shares a sense of purpose or common goals, and each team member is willing to work towards achieving these goals
·         The team is aware and interested in its own processes and examining norms operating within the group
·         Group members continuously try to listen to and clarify what is being said and show interest in what others say and feel.
·         Differences of opinion are encouraged and freely expressed. The team does not demand narrow conformity or adherence to formats that inhibit freedom of movement and expression
·          The team is willing to surface conflict and focus on it until it is either resolved or managed in a way that does not reduce the effectiveness of the individuals concerned
·          The team exerts energy towards problem solving rather than allowing it to be drained by interpersonal issues or competitive struggles
·          Roles are balanced and are shared to facilitate both the accomplishment of tasks and feeling of group cohesion and high group morale
·          To encourage risk taking and creativity, mistakes are treated as sources of learning rather than reasons for punishments
·          The team is responsive to changing needs of its members and to the external to which it is related
·          Team members are committed to periodically evaluating the team's performance
·          The team is attractive to its members, who identify with it and consider it as a source of both professional and personal growth
·          Developing a climate of trust is a pre-requisite for all that above elements
Finance and Fundraising
Financial Management practice should be based on the optimum use of resources, sustainability of the programme as well as organisation, and the maximum use of resources for the direct benefits of the constituency. Transparency of organizational budgets and accountability for the spending of organizational resources would be required to have credible finance management. Monthly internal auditing would help to monitor the pattern of expenditure. A good management practice should ensure appropriate procedures for financial review.
Other important suggested measures for finance management are the following:
                        when negotiating with donors or grants and/or contracts ensure that the
terms and conditions of funding agreement and procedures and timetable for reporting are mutually acceptable
                                     only pursue or accepts grants or contracts that:
                                    are consistent with their mission and objectives and do not cause
their identity, integrity, methods and activities to be distorted, subverted or corrupted
                                      ~        do not compromise their independence
                                      ~        do not place more responsibility on their organisation than they
can manage

                        D         seek to avoid dependence oil single, narrow or insecure sources of
funding or contracts.
                                    =}    the resource mobilization and investment should be adequately
broad and oriented to long-term sustainability. Means of attaining such sustainability should include developing corpus funds and effective marketing and sales of publications, specialist skills and expertise of the organisation.
                        D         ensure that the fund raising efforts of one organisation do nor undermine
the viability and sustainability other voluntary organisations.
                                    =}    in preparing budgets and costing, ensure that the full
organizational and administrative costs are recognized and included and adequate resources obtained to meet them
                        D          ensure that funds provided are always used for their intended purpose
                                    =}    For upholding organizational and      financial credibility It is
important that voluntary organisations publish their activity report and audited statement along with the sources of funding.
Communication to the Public
Communication is an important aspect of management. Communication to the Public as well as the internal communication between and among the team members would make the organisation more efficient and effective. Open Communication is a two way process that can bring about mutual trust between the constituency and the organisation as well as consensus and cohesion among the team members. If an organisation establishes a consistent communicative pattern to the public, that would go long way in making organizational transparency and accountability possible and in gaining social credibility and legitimacy.
Following are some of the possible areas of communication to the public:
The vision, mission, policies and programmes of the organisation should be communicated through brochures, link letters and field meetings with the public or the groups the organisation is working with.
The source of funds, programmes and audited statement of accounts should be published and disseminated widely. A brief report and audited statement may preferably be published in a local newspaper that commands a substantial readership among the constituency. It is
7

also important to communicate the organizational and accounts report directly to the people who constitute the general body of the organisation.
Whenever a public programme or a social issue is highlighted through mass media. It is important to project the work done by the organisation rather than the personality of the organizational leaders.
Communication to the public should be in the local language and a simple and straight forward style of communication would be more effective.
Role of Umbrella Organisations
Umbrella organisations can playa very crucial role in facilitating good policies and practice among the voluntary organisations. Networking among the organisation has a synergizing effect. Through consistent networking efforts umbrella organisations can provide appropriate channels and platforms that can help evolving commonly shared norms, policies and joint programmes for promoting good organizational governance and, ethical and effective management practices. While umbrella organisations can set a high standard of values and management practice as the criteria for the membership, it is not possible to ensure the any enforcement mechanism that would be validated by the voluntary sector as a whole. Donor Agencies, Government and number of other factors playa very crucial role in determining and influencing the nature and manner of governance. Hence Umbrella Organisation can only initiate a wide spread and sustained campaign to influence all the important actors, including Donor Agencies and Government, in the voluntary sector. Umbrella Organisations are best placed to facilitate a self disciplined and voluntary regulatory mechanism among the organisations.
Reference:
1.     Discussion on good practice and policy at South Asian Conference on Ruler "Laws and Regulation for Voluntary Organisation.
2, Non Governmental Organisations; Guidelines for Good Policy and Practice, Common Wealth Foundation 1995.



Rethinking Civil Society



John Samuel

Civil Society - a contested concept.

The concept of Civil Society’ is a contested terrain. It is one of the most commonly used and misused fluid concepts  in the socio-political discourse , development and  the international aid sectors today. Over the last fifteen years the term has been used to denote everything from citizens’ groups and activist formations to highly institutionalized non-governmental organisations and foundations.

One of the key predicaments of the ongoing social and political transition in the world today is the subversion of language and ideas to create political smoke screen or delusion or to give a semblance of social and political legitimacy for the hegemonic discourse. Often progressive-sounding words and phrases are used to conceal the reality on the ground or to create a virtual or projected sense of select images and discourse. The reshuffling of meanings and the subversion of political semantics has become the order of the day. This has become a part of process of creating the new pornography of politics. As a result, the terms like rights-based approach, participation, civil society, micro-finance, empowerment, gender-sensitivity, governance, democracy and justice are often used to mean entirely opposite things or to confuse the reality. The validity of a term or an idea in political or social discourse  is less based on the term itself, but more on who is using it when, where and how and for what. The intentions, context and the agency often help us to derive a sense of a new word or phrase.  So when John Rawls talks about Justice or George Bush talk about Justice, they mean entirely different things: as different as chalk and cheese. When a grassroots group or social movement talks about human rights based approach to politics or development, they often mean exactly opposite to what the mandarins in the World Bank or the multilateral organisation mean. The very term Civil Society is a major protagonist in the post-modern politics of delusive power-plays and elusive semantics. They together often create political and policy mirages.

There is another dimension to this process of subversive politics of words from the point of view of the history ideas and the political economy of knowledge.

Historically we seem to have crossed the twilight zone of the last rays of the Enlightenment. We are in the transitory phase of a new epoch. The notions of nation-state, market, civil society, reason and progress that emerged during the Enlightenment are beginning to get transformed. However, we are yet to discover a new language or politics in this flux of transition and the withering away of the old hegemony. The political economy of knowledge production, transmission and legitimation is often a reflection of the unequal and unjust power relations in the world. That is why hegemonic institutions like the World Bank are increasingly in the business of knowledge-enterprise.  Most of the new terms are constructed, recycled, legitimized and marketed by the Universities, think tanks, publishing industry and media empires based in the hegemonic North- a new dimension to the old art of the colonialisation of the mind and knowledge- a relationship based on extraction, appropriation and legitimation.



There are political, historical and social reasons for the increasing use and misuse of the concept of the civil society:

1)The term has reemerged in the public discourse in the wake of solidarity movement in Poland and in the context of the collapse of authoritarian regimes and very powerful states in the former Soviet Block.
2) There is a correlation between the rise of neo-liberal policy paradigm and that of the civil society discourse in the development and social discourse
3)The changing role and the nature of the state in the context of globalisation, unleashed new social and political process that gave credence to the political project of civil society
4)Saturation of the welfare state and increasing deficit of democracy necessitated the need for associations and organisations in intervening and participating in service delivery, public management and policy and political process.
5)Counter movements to economic globalisation also unleashed a new wave of grassroots democratization, citizens resistance, social mobilsation and social movements to protect the social-cultural and economic spaces and to challenge the invasion of the market as wall as the hegemonic tendencies of the powerful governments in the North. This too gave rise to new forms of organisations committed to justice, human rights, and people’s participation.

6) The political parties all over the world have increasingly become electoral networks or mechanism to capture state power and governments. Political parties also began to be dependent on media (for poll surveys, profile building, brand making) and business corporations. As a result people have been forced to find new, ways and means to engage with state through intermediary association and organisations.

7)The rise of identity politics and the new political contestations at the national and global level created a political  environment of new forms of identity-based mobilization and organisation across the world.

8) The revolution in the area Information,communication and technology(ICT)  provided new spaces for digital mobilization, creating digital or virtual communities, and transnational as well as global action. The availability of information and access to internet and the new forms of communications have transformed the nature of social and political process in many of the countries. In many of the countries, citizens are less and less participating in formal electoral process (due to various factors including the legitimacy deficit of political parties and media driven and corporate funded electoral process) and more and more challenging and engaging with the state through digital mobilization and consequent action. Millions of people mobilized against the war( US invasion of Iraq)  primarily through digital mobilization and through organisations and networks outside the conventional political parties. Many young people got mobilized in many of the countries in Arab Region and other parts of the world to demand democratic governance, transparency and accountability. 

9)The resistance to transnational corporations and economic globalisation and the consequent deficit  in legitimacy/credibility forced many of transnational corporations and their proponents like the World Economic Forum to derive new forms of legitimacy through associational forms and public discourse, subverting the meaning of the term 'civil society' to give credence to  vested interest-based pressure groups.

10)  The emergence and increasing independence of trans-national development, human rights, charity and anti-poverty organisation and their increasing role in the production and dissemination of knowledge and global knowledge-action-advocacy networks created new spaces across the globe. The use of new information technology, relatively cheap air travel, the opening up global spaces through various UN summits and the “invited spaces” in the multilateral organisation of governance created a sense of counter balance and space for organisations outside the conventional arenas of the state and the market. The series of citizens’ action and protests against WTO (in Seattle, Cancun, and Hong Kong etc) and the emergence of spaces like World Social Forum created a very fluid sense of Global Civil Society.

Hence, there are various streams of historical, social, political, economic and technological underpinnings to the whole discourse on civil society. As a result,  there is whole new academic industry working, researching and theorizing on the civil society projects. On the one hand the resurrection of such a concept signifies the profound flux in the midst of social and political transition in the world and on the other hand the idea itself signifies the new forms of political economy of knowledge generation, validation and distribution.  A concept that has multiple streams of meanings, historical trajectories, political constituencies and ideological undercurrents often ends up becoming an idea of “instrumental value” as opposed to “intrinsic value”. In fact civil society can also seen as a “transitional idea and formation’ that is a byproduct of the social and political discourse in the midst of profound transitions. As an idea it got discussed and used in the midst of the social and political transition in the 18 nth centuries Europe and America. We are in the midst of an unprecedented social and political transition in the history of the world and hence within such a flux, the new residual forms of associations, social expressions and arrangements may help to transit a particular phase of transitions before a more solid form of political arrangement or hegemony gets established.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the use or misuse of the term, the fact of the matter is that the idea has become a part of the mainstream social, political and developmental discourse

Whether one thinks that the prevalence of the idea or concept or the term is due to the subversive character of the post modern politics or due to the hegemony of the neo-liberal and globalization discourse, the fact of the matter is that it has become a part of the common place political vocabulary and development lexicon. Hence, we have only two options: either to live with the term ( in spite of our likes or dislikes) or confront the idea to rethink and redefine and revitalize a set of meanings, ideas and actions to make it relevant to various struggles for social justice, human rights, democratization and human development. 

In the new paradigm shift, the key challenge before us is to whether we become silent spectator or victims of the recycling of the old concepts for the new power-play or we once again go back to the lived experiences of communities and individuals to search for new ways of looking at the transition of the world. We need a new language, a new set of insights and a fresh sense of humility to look at our past, present and future. We need a new poetics of imagination and politics of transformation. At present, we do not have adequate theoretical categories or analytical framework to capture the complexities of the ongoing transition. What we need a new renaissance is to rediscover ethical communities within our societies and the world. We can still question injustice or rights violations based on the whole range of humanizing ethical traditions.  However, at this juncture one of our options is to understand the challenges of using a terms and simultaneously transform the meanings of the dominant and dominating terms to create a new politics and semantics of emancipation and freedom.


Hence, we have to make efforts to rethink the concept of civil society so as to understand, challenge and change the meanings and validity of the terms like civil society. Civil society is a very fluid concept. Its conceptual underpinnings and operational validity are often problematic. So the first part of the paper seeks to give a critique of the idea of civil society and the second part of the paper seeks to explore some of the options to explore some sense of operational validity for the idea of civil society  and Civil Society Organisation(CSO)  by engaging with the concept by defining the terms from an ethical and political premises.


Part II

Historical sketch of the idea  of Civil Society

Civil society as a concept originated in 18th-century Western Europe. It was a theoretical construct useful in analyzing and understanding the emerging socio-political economy of the industrialized west in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The concept was resurrected in the late-'80s amidst the ruins of the authoritarian regimes of Eastern Europe. It was born-again in the manufacturing shops of neo-liberal and neo-democratization ventures in the United States and Western Europe. During the second coming of the concept, more stress was laid on producing and marketing the civil society in different colours and shapes, rather than on reflecting the very validity of the idea in relation to   real-life situations and experiences. The civil society is being paraded as the new panacea for issues such as poverty, human rights, gender equity and `good governance'.

The new avatar of civil society discourse raises more questions than answers. There are four broad reasons that compel us to question the new-found enthusiasm for the civil society:  a) As a concept, it conceals reality and confuses people; b) It tends to idealize the civil society while glossing over the internal contradictions in society; c) It tends to relieve the State of its social responsibilities and seeks to legitimize free-market, neo-liberal regimes; d) It is basically an Euro-centric concept with universal claims that tends to strait-jacket alternative  discourse to north-centric development models.

What is this civil society all about? Whose civil society are we talking about? There is no one answer or even set of answers. The colour and smell of the term will change according to the convenience of the various proponents. As a result of such ambivalence, the second coming of the civil society conceals more than it reveals.   Civil society, we are told, is synchronous with democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of choice, good governance and opportunity for economic growth. But what do all these goodies entail? Whose democracy? Whose freedom of expression and choice are we talking about?

The new holy trinity of the State, Market and Civil Society conceals structural inequalities, marginalization and patriarchy, and reduces complex reality into neat spaces. There is an underlying tendency to homogenize the world according to an idealized notion of governance that skips the entire historical process of marginalization and unequal distribution of power in the socio-economic and political arena. The problem with such an ahistorical theorization is that anything and everything outside the market and the State can be considered civil society. So the Islamic Taliban, Sangh Parivar and all such fundamentalist formations as well as small self-help groups, neighborhood associations or professional groups can be considered part of civil society. A mega-million non-profit organisation such as the Rockefeller Foundation and Asia Foundation is as much part of civil society as a small NGO. This is an interesting logic wherein sharks, sardines and shrimps all say we are fish, though the sharks would like the freedom to swallow sardines and other small fish.

When both donor agencies and recipient NGOs say they are the dynamos of civil society formations, it is a bit confusing.  The difference between the earlier NGO discourse and the new civil society discourse is that the blanket term `NGOs' had limited scope for homogenizing and concealing; the notion of civil society in one sweep conceals every unequal power relation and socio-economic contradiction in society and at the same time manages to confuse people further.

The concept also conceals the different histories of marginalized communities outside the western world. Another aspect of such diagrammatic rather than ethical theorization is the prevailing management approach to the issues of poverty, rights and marginalization. Such a management approach boils down to rolling back the State and the privatization of every social security provision. When the global western or northern elites prescribe the idealized civil society as the answer to all ills, whose civil society are they referring to?  That of the urban, educated middle class or that of the large majority of people in villages, forest areas and slums? Is it the civil society of the oriental `savages' or African `barbarians' or that of the privileged ‘global citizens’ in a virtual world? Who is civil and who is uncivil? Who defines it?  These are some of the uncomfortable questions.

There is a need to understand the history of the idea of civil society. This nebulous concept had its origin in western political theory. The pre-18th century concept emerged in the tradition of Aristotle, Cicero and modern natural law. Till the 18th century, civil society was considered "a type of political association which placed its members under the influence of laws and ensured peaceful order and good government". The discourse on civil society took a critical turn in the 18th century, as a corollary to the discourse on emerging capitalism as well as liberal democratic movements. The ambivalence of this concept is partly because it was an analytical tool used by both the proponents and critics of modern capitalism. On the one hand it served as a convenient tool to legitimize the market outside the sphere of an authoritarian and mercantile State and on the other; it was a tool to rationalize the sphere of individuals and associations to assert their freedom and rights.

One can see three broad varieties of definitions and interpretations of this term. There is a tradition that can be traced back to John Locke, Thomas Paine and De Tocqueville -- the liberal tradition. Though there are differing nuances within this tradition, one of the significant aspects is that civil society is considered a `natural condition' for freedom, and a legitimate area of association, individual action and human rights. Thus the notion of civil society came to be seen in opposition to the State: it allowed space for democracy and the growth of markets.

The classical political economy tradition of civil society emanated from the works of Adam Fergusen, Adam Smith and J S Mill. This stream of thinking perceived civil society as a sphere for the satisfaction of individual interests and private wants. This perspective stressed the primacy of individualism, property and the market. The third stream of civil society discourse can be traced back to Hegel, Marx, Gramsci and Habermass. This stream can be seen as a critique of the liberal and classical political economy tradition. This perspective interpreted civil society as a historically-produced sphere of life rather than the natural condition of freedom. This tradition questioned the notion of an idealised civil society and recognised the internal contradictions and conflict of interests within civil society.  For Hegel, civil society was sandwiched between a patriarchal family and the universal State. Though Hegel questioned the idealised notion of civil society, he tended to idealise a universal State. By challenging the idealisation of both State and civil society, Marx argued that the contradictions within civil society are reproduced within the State. For Marx, the State is not merely an external force that confronts civil society, but the reflection of it, wherein different interest groups penetrate the State to rule. Both Hegel and Marx pointed out the role of the elite in defining the character of civil society. Gramsci emphasized civil society as the realm of public opinion and culture. It is the public sphere where hegemony is created through consent and coercion.

The new civil society discourse is also a symptom of the crisis in social theorization. Instead of looking for fresh theories to address the profound socio-political and economic transition, the tendency is to resurrect concepts and theoretical frameworks from the residue of the Enlightenment in the 18th century. The civil society discourse smacks of the Euro-centric tradition where the `other' was the savage or barbarian who had to be `civilized'. Adam Fergusen (An Essay on the History of Civil Society -- 1767) explained the evolution of civil society based on the criteria of reason, material advancement and moral progress. Thus the notion of civil society became the measuring scale of progress and accomplishment. The West European societies were the ideal to be pursued by the `savages' and `barbarians' of the East or South. The universalistic claim of the idealised north-centric conception of civil society is due to the economic and political hegemony of the few rich countries and the international institutional discourse controlled by them. Such a Euro-centric conception of the world is still based on a uni-linear notion of progress and a world-view based on `binary opposition'. Such a tradition sees the world as `civil' and `uncivil', `developed' and `underdeveloped', `north' and `south' and `black and white'. The problem with such a conception is that in the enthusiasm to paint everything black and white, all the grey shades in between are taken for granted. It's little wonder then that the UN-World Bank prescriptions and the WTO regime put forward the model of good governance, civil society and human rights based on Euro-centric ideals. Such idealization and valorization of the term is not only far from reality but also incompetent to address the complexity of the issues of marginalization, conflicts and poverty.



In the second coming of the civil society in the late-'80s and  through the '90s, the  predominant trend has been a resurrection of the tradition of Adam Fergusen and Adam Smith, with a  doze of De Tocqueville's liberalism. Thus the ongoing civil society discourse has a strong neo-liberal undercurrent. The dominant steam in the civil society discourse seems to be a plea for the supremacy of the free market, rolling back of the State, and the individualistic notion of human rights. Civil society has emerged as a poaching ground for the New Right to rationalize and legitimize  the privatization of  the public services through the so-called CSOs (read privatized NGOs), to reduce the State as a support mechanism to the market and to conceal the contradictions of globalisation. But this is only one part of the story.

The other part of the story is the Civil Society is also being used to denote new democratization, grassroots politics and new way for citizens’ participation and engagement in the process of governance and affairs of the state.  So the term is being used by both new Right and new Left and also the proponents of the third way. The New Right tends to idealise and valorize the term in favour of a Big and “Free” Market and the “little” and “market driven State”. The  proponents of  the “third way” try to valorize the term to as “fall back” mechanism to meet the deficit of democracy and  the excess of market and as a means for delivering social services through public-private partnership The New Left seems to use the term to denote process of grassroots democratization, new social movements and people-centred advocacy.

All the above three political and knowledge traditions co-exits with each other and often intermingle to create new sense and meaning to the term civil society. This often makes the concept fluid and ambivalent.

There seems to be three components to the whole project of civil society discourse. This includes the “associational’ (Structural aspect) character of the term, the ethical-political premises (normative aspect) and thirdly the citizens-dimension (political aspect) of the term. It is often the ‘associational aspect’ of the term that are being used to homegenise and unversalise the whole range of associational spectrum or what  is being called the new “associational revolution” or institutional explosion. Often the ‘associational’ aspect of the civil society is privileged over the ethical-political premises or the citizen-dimension of the idea. The privileged “associational” stress on Civil Society often tends to equate the Civil Society with Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs). This is very problematic as the very term Non-Governmental is negative definition in relation to the governments and express a wide range of institutional formation with entirely different sets of  ideological inclination , ranging from Community Based Organisations to muti-million dollar institutions to grant-making foundations and World Economic Forum. Some of such institutions may locate themselves within the civil Society or play a role in civil society. Many of such institutions are either the extension of the State, or Corporations or institutional means to serve the interest of the market or the state. As civil society itself could be a site of unequal power relationship within a given political context, NGOs also can reflect the social and political contradictions and tension within in a given geo-political context or in the world. Like all institutions within a given society, whether political parties, academic institutions or social enterprises, NGOs too can reflect, maintain or even reproduce the status-quo and dominant power relations based patriarchy, race, cast, ethnicity, identity or class.

It is further problematic when all NGOs, irrespective of their shape, coloure or locations are paraded as Civil Society Organisations(CSO) . The moral and political assumptions behind such a description and the politics of “representation” need to be revisited.  The NGO world is increasingly looking like an Orwellian Animal Farm, wherein everyone is supposed to be equal but some are more equal than others. The civil society title for NGOs often becomes a moral and political rationale for appropriating the experience of communities and the deprivation of the marginalised.  There is nothing wrong with any committed organisation or group of people speaking for the rights of others. The problem occurs when such groups or entities develop a universalistic claim based on an imagined or assumed legitimacy.












 Part III

Ethical and Political Role of Civil Society Organisations.

It may be time now to arrive at an operational definition of the term ‘Civil Society Organisation’ or CSO. Definitions have so far been based on either the typology or location of such formations outside the conventional arenas of the State and market. I propose a definition based on ethical and political positioning and perspective.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are those informal, semi-formal or formal organisational formations that protect, promote and facilitate the principles and practice of democracy, participation, pluralism, rights, equity, justice and peace among people locally, nationally or internationally. Such Civil Society Organisations play an ethical and political role within society, trying constantly to humanize an increasingly dehumanized world. They function outside the conventional spaces of State power and market forces, though they constantly negotiate, pressurize and persuade institutions of the State as well as market to be more responsible and responsive to the needs and rights of the people in general and the poor and marginalized in particular.

CSOs have gradually acquired a significant role in influencing the development agenda, public policies and international discourse on rights, justice, gender, ecology and peace. In the international and national political process, CSOs have a legitimate and crucial role to play.
What has led to this increasingly important role? The changing contours of the State, processes of governance and market forces, definitely. On the one hand, CSOs have become a legitimizing mechanism for powerful global institutions and actors. On the other, CSOs are fast emerging as the rallying point for resisting and challenging unequal and unjust power relations in the private, public and political spheres. Such a paradoxical positioning of CSOs often creates a sense of ambivalence about their real politics and purpose. This ambivalence becomes particularly problematic when different sets of actors and institutions use the same set of words and phrases with entirely different meanings. For instance, words like ‘empowerment’, ‘participation’, ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ are used by multinational corporations, BrettonWoods institutions, and of course powerful countries. Thus George Bush never tires of reminding us that the war on Iraq was to ‘free’ the Iraqi people and that the continued occupation is to establish democracy, people’s participation etc.
When Satan begins to quote the scriptures and preach salvation, salvation itself becomes questionable and often demonic. Therefore, one needs to constantly validate the role and relevance of CSOs on the basis of what they do on the ground, rather than what they say.
The disjuncture between words and their meaning, rhetoric and reality, and talking and doing is one of the key predicaments of the postmodern condition. Hence the role and relevance of CSOs needs to be seen in relation to their functions, affiliations, actions and context in which they operate. As the world and the international political order are constantly in a state of flux, we are living within more and more grey zones and less and less clearly demarcated black and white spaces. This makes the task of locating the political and social affiliations of CSOs problematic, as they seem to be partly responsible for and partly a response to and product of the graying of politics (e.g. the new labour of Tony Blair) and economy (MNCs are big on corporate social responsibility and ecology these days) worldwide.

The changing context

The role of CSOs needs be seen in the light of changing discourse on politics, development and governance. The emerging political arenas and development discourse are marked by the following trends:
  1. Deficit of democracy and erosion of rights
  2. Saturation of the State and crisis of governance
  3. Marketisation of politics and development
  4. Competing fundamentalisms and identity politics
  5. Conflicts over resources and market
The role of civil society can be understood within the context of these emerging trends. We will discuss each of these trends briefly and then try to identify the role of CSOs in relation to them.

1. Deficit of democracy and erosion of rights

Democracy is facing a crisis. The core of democracy and human rights is the notion of Freedom: Freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of association and freedom of belief. In a liberal democratic polity, freedom is the defining sign of citizenship. Citizens are supposed to define the boundaries of the State, and the State is expected to define the boundaries of the market. Now these roles seem to have been reversed. Markets increasingly determine the boundaries of the State (the WTO-led trade regime) and the State is increasingly defining the boundaries of citizens by undermining their freedom and eroding their rights. Citizens are increasingly forced to become consumers of public service and governance. A deficit of democracy results from the increasing trend of illiberal democracies which use the rhetoric of democracy, nationalism and security to take away the rights and freedom of citizens.

Political parties have become less and less legitimizing agents of democracy and the State. They have become more and more the organisational apparatus to contest elections and capture State power. Most political parties have become closed spaces controlled by vested interest pressure groups and career politicians in search of power.
In this situation, a key role of CSOs is the amplification of the voice of the voiceless and the protection and promotion of the rights of citizens and the marginalized. This is a non-partisan political role to assert freedom and articulate rights so as to ensure that the core principles and values of democracy are sustained. This role requires CSOs to promote and adopt a rights-based approach to democracy and politics -- primarily asserting the dignity and freedom of people and resisting all kinds of discrimination based on gender, race, religion, caste, creed and ethnicity. The advocacy role of CSOs becomes crucial in promoting and protecting democracy and rights.

2. Saturation of State and crisis of governance

The notion of the welfare state is withering away. Almost all the countries that became independent of colonial rule after the Second World War adopted the welfare state approach. However, over a period of time, the State apparatus began to be saturated by an indifferent, inefficient and growing bureaucracy and controlled by vested interest groups and career politicians. The apparatus of the State had become too fat to be functional. The dysfunctional State sought control and legitimacy through coercive power and militarization. Increasing militarization and conflict to sustain State power by vested interest groups resulted in economic resources being increasingly diverted from social and economic development to the purchase of more and more arms from industrialized countries.
The powerful OECD countries not only sold arms but also provided loans to the developing world to sustain their markets. As a result, most of the countries in the developing world got into the debt trap. The debt trap, aid dependency and increasing corruption, coupled with an entrenched bureaucracy, led to the saturation of the State and a resulting crisis of governance.
The role of CSOs in the area of social development and governance needs to be seen in this context. CSOs must fill the gap and directly intervene in development and delivery of services where the State either lacks the capacity or the political will to deliver public services. CSOs must put the issue of poverty eradication on the global development and political agenda. CSOs must play a collaborative, cooperative, complementary, competing and confrontational role in relation to the government and processes of governance.
3) Marketisation of politics and development

The State is increasingly controlled by market forces and multinational corporations. Most political parties and politicians around the world are dependent on corporate funds (either as donations or bribes) for electoral funding and sustenance of their power apparatus. This leads to a situation where political priorities and agendas are controlled by powerful corporations. In many countries, corporate leaders have captured State power through the electoral process and run the government like corporate CEOs (e.g. Taksin in Thailand, Berlusconi in Italy, George Bush, ex-CEO of an oil company in the USA), without any respect for the rights and voice of citizens.

The neoliberal policy regime and Washington Consensus promoted by the BrettonWoods institutions (World Bank-International Monetary Fund) and WTO actively seek to privatize public services and decrease public spending on key areas such as health and education. This makes the poor poorer and excludes them from the ambit of development.

Thus development is market-driven and citizens are merely consumers.
In order to be self-reliant, CSOs need to raise independent sources of income and not be dependent on official funds and corporate donations. Otherwise, there is a real danger that CSOs will be used as delivery boys for Development Cola, served up to the poor and marginalized for a price. If this is not to happen, CSOs must develop new fundraising strategies based on principles of solidarity, ethical philanthropy and community mobilization. They must not run like ‘service-delivery machines’ that can be hired by anyone including the MNCs and World Bank.

The role of CSOs is thus crucial in humanizing development and politics by building alliances of peoples and communities, facilitating people’s participation, listening to and learning from the poor and marginalized and acting in solidarity with the marginalized.

-- This article is based on John Samuel’s recent keynote address at the meeting of African Civil Society Organisations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
1 Hall John, A (end) 1995, Civil Society, Theory, History, Comparison, Polity Press, Cambridge
 2. Colas Alejandro, 2002, International Civil Society, Polity, Cambridge

3) Elliott, Carolyn M (end), 2003. Civil Society and Democracy: A Reader, Oxford University Press, New Delhi