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By Piyus Ganguly PIYUS GANGULY
  • Published 7.11.03

DOES CIVIL SOCIETY MATTER? GOVERNANCE IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA, Edited by Rajesh Tandon and Ranjita Mohanty, Sage, Rs 620

Neera Chandhoke, one of the ten contributors to this anthology, says that “at an elementary level the concept of civil society pinpoints and values associational life — interest groups, professional and other associations, voluntary agencies, grassroots organizations and other social orders...because it brings people together in networks and shared concerns.”

In a comprehensive introduction, the editors argue that the policies made to benefit the deprived sections are not implemented by the state institutions which “showed considerate apathy and high-handedness in their dealings with the people”. Truly, social services, employment opportunities and fulfilment of the basic needs of vast sections of the Indian society remain unachieved. All this results in the gradual erosion of the people’s faith in the state and its institutions. Such disenchantment encourages the proliferation of civil societies that can curb authoritarian tendencies of the so-called democratic states. The state can no longer be left alone to the task of addressing concerns and fulfilling the needs and aspirations of the common people. It has to include other actors, including the people who will ensure the above.

Writing about civil society’s interface with governance, Rajesh Tandon observes that the former provides an opportunity to voice the priority issues and practices of governance, while as a movement, it creates collective pressure for reform. Civil society organizations contribute to the practical tasks associated with self-governance.

The assertions of civil society vis-à-vis the state indicate that the state needs to be reformed to perform its task of responsible governance. This has been suggested by the empirical case studies in the book. The struggle in Chhattisgarh to provide a dignified environment for the people to live in, the struggle of the Kol tribals in Chitrakut to be beneficiaries of land distribution — all highlight people’s dissatisfaction with the state. But this dissatisfaction does not undermine the existence of the state; rather it proposes to make the state respond to people’s demands.

Harsh Mander’s piece also examines the causes and dynamics of corruption in India, particularly among the civil servants, and the dilemmas associated with its possible control. He argues that citizen vigilance and assertion can play a crucial role in resisting the corrupt and arbitrary exercise of state power.