We keep hearing from the government that “we can’t allow the Civil Society to become the fourth branch of the government”. We also hear that the Civil Society wants to take on all powers, dictate its terms without being duly elected by the people. What exactly is this Civil Society? Is this an organization much like the BJP, Congress or another party? Is India Against Corruption being considered as Civil Society? Is Ramdev movement against black money being called as Civil Society?
Is there really a Civil Society?
This is a total misconception created by the politicians. In a democracy any citizen has the rights to peacefully protest against any policies, practices and actions taken by the government. He/she can openly talk about, voice the views, go on fast or take legal actions against the government. He/she may also claim to represent the feelings of the majority of the nation. If his/her views are genuine, relate to the concerns felt by the fellow countrymen then the fellow countrymen also have the right to support the views. They too have the right to protest and go on fast to peacefully voice their views. There is nothing wrong or illegal with any of this.
The problem for the government begins when a large section of the nation feels genuinely sympathetic to the cause of a particular citizen going on a fast to protest against certain practices such as corruption rampant in the government. Even the anticipation of this national discontent sets off alarm within the government since it eventually threatens their very existence in a democratic setup.
The government has two major (amongst a broad spectrum of) choices to address this:
- Work with the people to understand the nature of concern and work within the parliament to alleviate it.
- Ignore the concern or fight it and take the chances to deal with the wrath in the upcoming elections.
Both of these are legal and democratic choices. Our government has effectively selected the second option. Politically, one of the most effective ways to fight any movement against an entity (by the government) is to identify it by giving it a name (like Civil Society). Make it appear like another organization with ulterior motives. Then methodically launch a smear campaign to destroy its credibility thereby severing any sympathetic chord it may have struck with the nation.
Take the current situation of corruption rampant in our country. There is no doubt that it permeates in every element of our society and system inside and outside the government. There is also no doubt that there are genuinely honest people in both spectrums. However, there are two glaring facts that stand out:
- Corruption is the norm in our system and the honesty is the exception.
- The government is the single biggest instigator, perpetrator and perpetuator of corruption in our system.
Some people claim that the bribe taker and giver are both equally guilty. While it is true that both are guilty, it is not true that they are equally guilty. The one in authority and power can easily compel the other to submit or face the consequences like being denied their due entitlements and services as citizens. When a fresh body of water is polluted by the sewage coming in from an entity, all the creatures within it are impacted by it. They become demented and act abnormally. The solution is not to blame the entire ecosystem but to stop the sewage.
The corruption in our government has to be eradicated. In a democracy, it can only be done by the duly elected government. Now, how can a government (for that matter previous governments – central and state) corrupt within itself cure itself by itself? The citizens of the nation, who are the principal victims of this deficiency in the government, have no choice but to exercise their democratic rights and responsibilities to peacefully compel their government to initiate and implement the necessary changes. This is called Satyagraha. This is what M. K. Gandhi taught the world (in a different context). This is what is happening across our nation right now. This process may have its own hiccups as those carrying it out may not be as competent as Gandhi. The solutions they are advancing may not be optimum and may require further deliberations and improvements. Nevertheless, this is what they are trying. It is not appropriate on our part to reject their alternatives outright if they do not provide complete remedy to the problem in our view. We need to work with them and ask our government to work with them to optimize the solution and then to implement them.
There is no such real thing as Civil Society. There are citizens and organizations within the civil society with their identified concerns. They can all play out their roles in a democratic system. It is up to the people of this country to decide whether to support them or reject them. Our democracy is finally showing signs of maturity. This is how a democracy supposed to function. Each one of us as a citizen has to introspect and find our role in this process. Being uninvolved is not a responsible choice.