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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

     
  


     

 

Civil Society, Social Accountability and Governance

-   Dr. Thakur V. Hari Prasad

We live in an uncertain world though science and technology have achieved more control over the forces of the nature.  We live in a Society that does not work and often appears to be meaningless and empty and seems to be heading towards disasters. We claim that a lot of development has taken place.  But we have to look at this process from a different angle, and whether our developmental process have led to less of uncertainty and insecurity are more of this. Are we correct in claiming - that this is true development? Do our developmental process Political, Social or Economic, more of inequality is less? We know fully well that ‘development’ is uneven and unequal, dividing the world as a whole, and societies and even communities within it, into haves and have-nots. This, surely creates greater uncertainty and will result in greater insecurity. The uncertainty is more obvious for the have-nots, for there is not even certainty of life itself across the country for them.  Thousands of people die of hunger.

  


 

       The uncertainties born-out of uneven and unequal development are less obvious for the haves. Until recently the haves could avoid the uncertainties of inequality by locking their doors, avoiding unsafe environments, shutting of their gaze from what they do not wish to see, and withdraw their hands and hearts from things they regard as of not their concern.

1   What is our view of a ‘good society’?  To what extent does such a society exist today?

2   In a good society what are the roles played by the citizens, State institutions and other sectors?

3   What would enable citizens to play their roles more effectively in the development of such a society in the future?

       It is generally found that in spite of the great diversity of cultures and the States in which they live, there should be a strong civil society. A strong state and a strong society are complimentary and not contradictory. These are complements, not opposites. A strong state meanings - a facilitating listening and empowering State as well as a ‘doing State’.

       A deep democratic culture is one that is ‘not merely a matter of ballot boxes on election days. But more and more of civilian participation. Participatory democracy is characterized by inclusive Governance rather than exclusive Governance.  Such a view is, in marked contrast to what has been the conventional political and economic wisdom of recent decades.  Two features of this stand out,  one is that the State public / Governmental sector over the past decades has shrunk in terms of size and responsibility, partly by choice and partly because of global factors including forces that  have forced it to shrink and cede power.  So where have the powers and responsibilities of state gone?  In part, to global powers and forces.  But globally, the powers have been ceded to the second major actor or sector in society - the market.  Indeed the State’s policies towards the market have been active and indeed proactive, to encourage and enable the market focus. Many sound patronizing, unlike doing whatever is expected of them and the less fortunate do not have a choice.

       The State has on the whole - reluctant, but there are exceptions, to cede to civil society responsibilities and the required power, compared to its more positive and proactive policies towards increasing the role and powers of the market and the private sector. The State has tended to be less responsive towards the civil society. ‘Benign neglect’ seems to be the most appropriate term to describe the policies that characterize even the best scenario of Governmental policy towards the civil society. There are scenarios where the Government adopts policies that are unhelpful or even hostile to the civil society.

       So when the citizens say they want a strong State and strong civil society they are saying that they want the State to be more positive and proactive in its policies towards civil society. They want the State to view and treat civil society as a partner.  Citizens want the State to empower civil society, to value it positively, to enable and facilitate citizens and the actions they take for the civil, common good.  It also means that citizens are asking the State to go beyond ‘benign neglect’, not just encouragement support but facilitate and civil behaviour and action, and also discourage uncivil action and behaviour.  In short, citizens are saying that they are by no means certain that the ‘conventional wisdom’ model of societal functioning is the one that works.

  


 

Participatory democracy:

       There is a very great challenge here. A strong civil society is the essential bedrock of a society that works; so too is a healthy and vibrant democracy a similar essential bedrock.

       The civil society in the new millennium is active and while they value and want democracy, they feel that at present it is not as vibrant as it should be.  In terms of their participation they want it to be much more than putting pieces of paper in ballot boxes every few years on election days. It thereby indicates that there is a greater need for a more active role for citizens not as mere voters or beneficiaries, but as empowered  partners in social, economic and political development.

       Citizens and their collective endeavours constitute the basic fabric of any society.  Individually and together, citizens have always acted voluntarily to improve their communities and societies.  These actions make up what is frequently referred to as ‘civil society’ working for common good.  There are two points that follow from this. Firstly, those organisations called voluntary, Non-Governmental Organizations are only one part of the civil society.  There are many other constituents that make the civil society, from small, informal groups and endeavours often called community participative / based organisations or efforts, to large, mater and various sectors of society, such as the media, professional bodies and associations, academia, faith groups, trade unions, etc.

       However, unfortunately this also implies - that individual and collective action taken by people are not always necessarily ‘civil’ in its form and purpose.  It can be uncivil or in other words detrimental to the common good.

       Civil actions make up ‘civil society’. Such actions of the society, they help create are the basis on which democracy, pluralism, respect for human rights, good Governance and the cohesiveness of society rest.  A strong civil society is the bottom line of a society that works. A good society is characterized by having strong Government and strong civil society.  Responsibility should go along with corporate social accountability and social ethics.

       In view of this, it should be ensured that participation and responsibility in a sound civil society, should percolate down to the non-corporate sections of the society also.

       The Corporate sector is characterized by competitiveness and individualistic orientation.  While these are necessary for the civil society, both these should operate within the ambit of civil and social accountability and social responsiveness.

       We must help disabled persons with individual and collective capacities, and the knowledge, skills and abilities to take on the enlarged roles, we enable them to plan ensure that this will function as active members of a participatory democracy.

       These requests are not just directed at the State, they are directed at the institutions and organizations including those professions that comprise civil society as well as corporations and organizations operating in the market.

            The culture and values of the market is competitive, its values are individualistic.  Both are needed in the individual and societal psyche but there is a need to go beyond this. Disadvantaged need to be enabled to compete survive and prosper, working together and for the common good of the society with true love, respect and the acknowledgment of them is imperative for a civil society. Cooperative participation and social welfare are both the means and the ends of democratic society.