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With the change of the century, globalisation and development have increased at a very rapid rate. The technological and economic aspects of this development have led to a huge increase in the development of civil services and social dependence on them. The concept of civil society can be dated back to approximately 2500 years ago to Greek and Roman societies from where it spread all over Europe and then soon became a global phenomenon (Glacius, Lewis and Seckinelgin, 2004). There has been numerous research and countless discussions on the importance of existence of these societies and their role in the current world.
These societies have been debated to work for the government by helping to reduce poverty, spreading awareness regarding various issues and supporting those in need; but a darker side has also been associated with its existence; civil societies may provide an excuse to fight with the current system, create groups thereby causing tensions and also in some cases might have led to wars.
Edwards (2004) suggests people to not accept or disregard this concept completely but to at least clarify its meaning, as its value varies from person to person. As we try to understand the concept of “Civil Societies”, what also becomes clear is its relation with the political world. Through this article, I will try to explain the term civil society and its impact on politics which leads to good governance using a case study as an example.
Theory and Concepts
A civil society is a non-governmental organisation or an institution outside the family, state and market where people with common interests meet and work together for that interest.
Civil societies have become the first medium of social service and support in places where other assistance and help is scarce. Civil societies may include NGOs, social movements or community groups, trade unions, faith groups and many more. As civil societies grow, they become powerful and influential social groups with important responsibilities, and thus become an integral part of the country’s governmental system. These civil societies work to aid the government in small and major issues, thereby ensuring the proper working of the government by relieving them of pressure.
The role of civil societies is not only social i.e. to bring together people of common interests together but on a larger scale they must work towards good governance (What is acivil society, 2001). Good governance is a concept where institutions, private or public, work in a responsible and a transparent environment providing an abuse free and corruption less system which is responsive to the public demands and beliefs. This phenomenon of good governance when applied in a positive and an efficient manner would result in human development and also in large scale benefit the world (Sheng, UNESCAP, 2012).
The rise in the power of civil societies has resulted in the downfall of communist states as well as monarchy and there has been a growth of democracy. Having understood the terms “Civil Society” and “Good Governance” individually; a relationship can be derived between them, highlighting the role of civil society in good governance. It has been debated a lot that a civil society can flourish only under a democracy, as democracy provides the societies with much more freedom and independence to work. As JA Scholte (2002:281) pointed out, a democracy does not flow automatically but has to be nurtured. An active and diverse civil society plays an importabnt role to assist good governance or democracy.
There have been various debates about the boons civil societies have brought for democracy and how it has been a bane. Analysing the positive effects of civil society in a democracy is very essential and may help to understand the importance of these societies for good governance. A strong civil society may help in identifying potential political weaknesses. There are some nations in the world that are extremely powerful and successful like United States of America, United Kingdom etc. and owe a lot of its development to their strong civil societies while nations with under developed civil societies do suffer in a long run. For example, Spain, who are currently in a state of economical breakdown, still believe in the traditional methods of governance like blind faith in the government.
The civil societies can act as mediators between the government and the people and can assist in making decisions. The certain connection provided by the government and the public increases the transparency in the working of the government which leads to the people having a belief in the government and it gives them an incentive to work for the betterment of the country. The support of a civil society as a whole increases the tolerance and understanding of people towards the rules of the government and the democratic power also supports the civil society to play the role of advisory for better implementation of laws.
Civil societies for their beliefs and work collect a lot of funds and donations from people which can directly support the government by forming NGOs or organise social gathering to help those in need. Another huge part a civil society plays towards obtaining good governance is the ability of these societies to spread education. For a nation to develop and run successfully it is important to have well-read public. Civil societies can organise workshops, open theatres, schools with nominal fees and provide with books, stationary and other necessary material required for education. Moving further, we should also discuss the negative side of civil societies in governance.
There is a developing fear, that with the civil societies becoming strong and powerful, they may deviate from their goals and become greedy. These societies may start working too much in favour of the public ignoring their responsibility towards achieving good governance or even democracy. A check needs to be kept over the principles and working of the civil societies. The leaders of the government are forced to keep a friendly and a healthy relationship with the civil societies so as to have a control over them. A democratic government may face a lot of issues as there is a huge possibility for civil society being biased to a particular political party that can be against the public of the nation as well as the government.
There is a prospect of a reverse situation as well the government favours a particular civil society only thereby benefitting it with all the government grants, donations, relief funds and other administrational advantages which harm the other civil societies. The concept of civil society can be classified as “Western” and some of the laws or beliefs followed by these societies may not be of cultural acceptance in under developed or developing nations, causing a political stir locally. Civil societies can also fall short of satisfying religious beliefs of a country, as this being a sensitive issue is preferred to be left untouched by the civil societies.
The powerful leaders of a civil society can pressurise the state to make some difficult, unethical or complicated decisions for personal benefits, example, some activists or lawyers may force the administration to make certain changes in the existing policies even if the new policy does not benefit the whole country as a whole but only a certain section of a society. Another huge disadvantage of a civil society can be the non-realisation of the power of the civil society itself by the leaders and thus failing to provide the people with transparency of its work and activities. This can create a sense of mistrust amongst the believers who may either stop supporting their societies or start a revolt against the existing one which is another unwanted pressure for the government.
Lastly, the ability to maintain the interest of the people towards the civil societies is another major task. Here the people of different social, political and economic backgrounds co-exist and it becomes essential for the civil societies to bind them in harmony as these diverse groups form a very integral part of good governance. Having described the concepts about the role of a civil society in good governance, I would like to support my thoughts and ideas with an example of an Indian civil society as my case study.
The India Against Corruption (IAC) or Jan Andolan is a collective but truly voluntary people’s society formed in India to demand the passage of a Jan Lokpal Bill by the Indian Parliament under the leadership of Anna Hazare. Anna Hazare is a freedom fighter who is especially recognized for the Indian Movement against corruption. In 2011, Hazare started a Satyagraha movement by invoking Mahatma Gandhi’s age old methods of ???, for passing a stronger anti-corruption Lokpal bill in the Indian Parliament. The bill is for a stronger anti-corruption law with stronger penal actions and more independence to the regulators in the states.
He started a hunger strike in Ram Lila Grounds in New Delhi, the capital of India, when the demand was rejected by Indian government after agreeing in principle. This agitation came in the backdrop of massive corruption scandals which showed politicians in a very bad light. Being a politician was seen as a dirty word. This people’s movement led by Hazare, with a clean image, attracted all sections of society specially people who did not consider themselves to be a part of Indian political system.
The urban youth of India who we call Gen Y was not seemingly a part of Indian political process; this generation of people did not vote in elections nor could truly understand the Indian freedom struggle which they read about only in history text books. Anna Hazare caught the fancy of young Indians who began to identify him with the Gandhi they read about in textbooks. This perception was reinforced by Hazare’s act of going to jail and fasting at Raj Ghat (memorial of Mahatma Gandhi).The movement attracted attention of the media,(with the power of electronic media on full display 24/7), millions of supporters inside and outside of India.
This was the first time in modern Indian history that a replica of freedom movement of sorts was being played out of drawing rooms and TV screens. This movement to draw out the corrupt politicians received unprecedented support from the society including students, professionals and people who normally lead a passive political life. This was a first. Already the memories of an Arab Spring were fresh in Egypt etc., people had shown support on the internet and social media such as Twitter and Facebook. These social media sites became powerful tools for young tech savvy Indians to connect for an anti-corruption cause.
Online Signature Campaigns garnered more than 1 million signatures in just 36 hours. The degree of participation by the middle class people and the youth was remarkably high and totally voluntary. Most of the young Indians who were involved were people who did not vote during elections or were first time voters. The ideals of this civil society could be seen to become a success. The creation of this civil society awakened the aspirations of many Indians and woke them out of their self-induced stupor. It made them realize that they could make a difference to the country’s future by being more proactive in their daily lives by not giving or taking bribes and blaming the politician for all ills that ail modern day India.
This change in the mind set ushered by Hazare’s movement augurs well for India and may be the beginning of good governance. The movement has forced the common man to reconsider his ‘chalta hai’ (translated as ‘’) attitude with regard to taking or giving bribes, corruption and many other relevant issues, which should bring about a significant change in the country.
Anti-corruption crusade unleashed by Hazare had well and truly caught on .It did not help that he was arrested and still didn’t compromise with his principles of nonviolence by protesting against violent movement of his supporters. Hazare progressed in public perception to become the most powerful influencer and visionary leader of modern India and rekindled the faith of young Indians in Gandhi.
Views of Experts about the movement
“Irrespective of how one views the Anna Hazare movement, there is little doubt that the one feeling it invoked in the political class was fear: the fear of losing control over a system that they have presided over for decades. But politics is as much about perception as it is about reality. And this is where the Anna factor creeps in. A large swathe of Uttar Pradesh (a state of India with population of ??) voters under 35, many of them first-time voters, are part of an ‘aspirational’ India hankering first time.
This satellite television generation has been bombarded for the last 12 months with images of Team Anna launching a moral crusade against corruption. Even if they don’t know the ABC of Lokpal, they have been touched somewhere by a desire to see the corrupt politician being defeated. Even political parties who do not look beyond caste equations realize that they can’t ignore this rising sentiment against corruption.
Impact On governance and the political class
The anger and the mood displayed on the streets by Gen Y have cautioned the establishment that their insensitive and unresponsive behavior towards the people of the country would not pay. It has made every politician realize that they would eventually have to be responsive and responsible for their work and not just make empty promises to voters every five years and not worry about them. The political history of India has seen many eminent members of the civil society and its relation with the political class. Anna’s movement has further changed the dynamics of this relationship. The demand for Lokpal bill was a long standing one but was never taken seriously by the political class. Without the popular people movement which was revolutionary, the bill would have continued to be kept in the cold storage and would have probably ended up there only.
It was the Anna Hazare movement with the backdrop of serious corruption charges and the anti establishment mood that highlighted the magnitude of the issue, made the public aware and forced the government to take a serious view towards the same. This movement was no doubt helped by the squeaky clean image of Anna himself. Additionally, the non-violent method of protest, following Gandhiji’s methods and invoking him at every stage, has been a success story and a lesson in marketing and leadership and has reinforced public faith in these methods. The movement restored a feeling of ‘being Indian’ in every citizen and also a feeling of pride in every Indian that was fast dissipating away with headlines of corrupt politicians looting millions of rupees.
After having analysed the role civil society plays in good governance, its importance can be judged. Edwards (2005) tries to reason that civil society is a concept that should be aimed at for a peaceful and a better life. The existence of a strong social system not only favours the public of the country but also the government. The recent emergence of civil societies in South Korea has not only increased the rate of the development of the country but also brought a feeling of satisfaction in the hearts of the people of that country. The existence of these civil societies lowers our expectations of the government body as small problems can be tackled easily and much more efficiently relieving the pressure of the state.
A well-developed civil society system has shown the brighter picture of having good governance and ultimately given people hope of a care free life. JA Scholte (2002:281) argues that if the benefits of civil society are to be realised in the long run, then there are still many requirements in the field of law development and their implementation. Civil societies are the solution to long terms global problems of poverty, illiteracy and non-development (Edwards, 2005). In my view, well managed and maintained civil societies can be seen as a replacement of non-working, poorly functioned and corrupt governmental administrations and these societies can work along with the government for faster development of the country.
e.g.: Muller, V. (1994) ‘Trapped in the body: Transsexualism, the law, sexual identity’, The Australian Feminist Law Journal, vol. 3, August, pp. 103-107. Glasius, M., Lewis, D., Seckinelgin, H. (2004) ‘Exploring civil society’, Chapter 1, London 2004. Scholte, JA. (2002) ‘Civil Society and Democracy in Global Governance’, Global Governance, vol. 8, pp. 281-304 What is a civil Society? [Online] Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/people/highlights/010705_civil.shtml Sheng, YK. (2012), ‘What is good governance?’ [Online] Available: http://www.unescap.org/pdd/prs/ProjectActivities/Ongoing/gg/governance.asp Evans, M. (2012) ‘Beyond the integrity paradox – towards ‘good enough’ governance?’, Policy Studies, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 97-113 Edwards, Michael (2004) Civil Society, Cambridge: Polity
Edwards, M. (2005) ‘Civil Society’, The encyclopaedia of informal education, Available: www.infed.org/association/civil_society.htm. Mercer, C. (2002) ‘NGOs, civil society and democratization: a critical review of the literature’, Progress in development studies, vol. 2, no.1, January, pp. 5-22
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