Democracy, India

Civil society activists are not holding democratic institutions in India to ransom

Indian Parliament

How democratic is the world's biggest democracy

With questions over how government appointments were made, public consultations offered only after a bill is passed and civil demonstrations treated with wary suspicion, just how democratic is The World’s Biggest Democracy. Sylvia Mishra reports.

Must the good endeavours of civil society be paused only because the government of India term it a ‘subversion of democracy’? Indians are yearning for answers, redress and justice. The government has no pleasantries to offer. Rather, civil society activism is viewed as ‘blackmail’ to the government.

Public views, interests, criticisms, disfavours and disapprovals are seemingly becoming intolerable to the government.  Where does the wisdom lie when public views are sought only after a bill has already been introduced in the parliament? In such a bizarre backdrop, hereby existing in the Indian polity, comes the role and importance of the civil society.

As to the question who makes up the civil society, information rights activists Arvind Kejriwal says, ‘Civil society means the country’s 1.2 billion people.’ Giving an example of potency of the civil society could one disagree that of all the meaningful changes in the U.S. that have come about through the efforts of the civil society?

A democratic state needs a strong civil society, but a strong civil society has to exist within the context of a democratic framework as guaranteed by the law. This point of symbiotic relationship both produces harmony and cohesion. Recently, the big debate of the day in the Indian society is about the Lokpal Anti-Corruption Bill where the Government of India and the Indian Civil Society are standing draggers drawn.

The clash between the civil society and popular movements on one side and government on the other has further intensified after Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s statement, ‘Elected members cannot yield to civil society ‘since it might undermine ‘parliamentary democracy.’ In reality, civil society activists are not holding the Parliamentary democracy to ransom.

Civil society activists know the Indian Constitution well and have no intention of striking at its very roots which is enshrined with democratic values. They definitely do have a role to play in mobilising citizens, creating pressure tactics on the government so as to ensure the formulation of policies which are beneficial to the Indian masses.

Are the citizens of the largest functioning democracy only good to elect their best representatives every five years? Would the ideals of participatory democracy need to recede since any form of mass protest to a bill is termed as ‘street coercion’ by the government? The UPA government has made a hue and cry about the Lokpal’s ‘unpopular’ clause of ‘appointing un-elected individual’.

In the article ‘Who is Undermining Parliament? Civil Society or Government?’ Tapas Ranjan Saha gives an account of how zealously the government is trying to protect and promote the cause of a handful in India. Throughout the nation, angry sentiments against the government are rife and the government has to be answerable to the public about how people such as Raghu Raman (CEO of National Intelligence Grid) or Nandan Nilekani (former CEO of UIDAI) were chosen for their positions.

The answer is simple, the selection criteria has been in no way close to democratic. Thus, are we to assume that the present Government of India only yields to the ‘big corporate houses and the plunderers of the nation?’ If the civil society activists, for all good and noble reason they are committed to, are slashed off their rights to protest and agitate by brutal crackdown of the government, are we not soon going to enter an age of decay under the debris of ‘corporate-dictated corruption?’



  1. Pingback: Civil society leaders behaving like legislators: Pranab « THE LAWFILE - August 21, 2011

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