General Studies Paper 2

Context: The article deals with changing landscape of civil society in India.

What are the challenges faced by civil society in current times?

  • CSOs lobbying for greater constitutional and civic freedoms are facing many challenges.
  • The access of funds to CSOs has been restricted by cancelling Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act clearances, revoking licenses, imposing retrospective taxes, and pressuring private companies and philanthropists to redirect funding.
  • Civil society is being vilified as disruptive to India’s development trajectory — and therefore anti-national.
  • Some specific CSOs are the primary recipient of government patronage and also the principal beneficiary of Corporate Social Responsibility funds.

What are the issues with the working of CSOs?

  • Instead of reorientation of their operational methodologies, CSOs still follow outdated tactics whose overall utility is fast diminishing. For example, sanctioned protests at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, Town Hall in Bengaluru or Azad Maidan are not useful in the present scenario.
  • Similarly, articles, speeches at think tanks/conferences, and petitions/open letters do not shame governments into any substantive course correction.
  • Even lobbying legislators to raise issues is ineffective as it has become easy to hinder or ignore Parliamentary functions.
  • Progressive CSOs fail to blend socio-cultural values with welfare/constructive work or calls to protect constitutional values. They are unable to reshape hearts and minds, and guide mass consciousness.
  • Vast sections of society have been radicalized. This is a major shortcoming of progressive civil society.
  • Evidence from various States suggests that local communities secure benefits from progressive CSOs, but ideologically align with the ruling government. This dichotomy has resulted in psychological fatigue among key activists.

What are the options for civil society?

  • CSOs need some financial sustenance because of financial constraints. Without sustained support, CSOs cannot mould public discourse.
  • Young activists could be inducted into political parties, either within the party organisation or in an aligned body. This could create an institutionalised moral force within the parties. This would afford parties a layered systemic approach to thorny issues.
  • Currently, many parties consciously avoid direct exposure to difficult issues that could adversely impact them electorally. This includes communal disturbances, atrocities against Dalits and women, and advocating for Adivasi rights or civic and political freedoms.
  • If an aligned civil society organisation took up such issues, it would ensure that a party remains connected to genuine community problems. There is a precedent to this, when the Congress Movement complemented the Congress system.

Way forward:

  • CSOs will need to urgently collaborate with other progressive stakeholders. They will need to shed their studied aversion to each other and political parties.
  • We need to find structural solutions to structural problems. This is our historic responsibility.
  • Private philanthropies and companies need to realise that they are the only lifeline for progressive CSOs today. It is infinitely easier to support organisations that work on ‘soft’ issues that may not invite the wrath of the powers. But inaction today will directly contribute to the extinction of civil society.
  • Conscientious Indians must find the courage to work together and silently devise new methods of collaboration.
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