Vol-CIV : January 2, 2013

Dear Colleagues

First of all, I wish a very peaceful and stimulating New Year to you all. My own resolve to share with you all my ‘random reflections’ continues into 2013 as well.

1.  Violence against women in India has gripped centre-stage of attention, conversation and action during the past two weeks since the dastardly gang-rape of a woman in Delhi took place on the night of December 16, 2012. Spontaneous, angry and sustained mobilization of young India nationwide has caught the formal leaders and institutions of democracy by surprise. Grassroots civil society mobilizations in such vocal and assertive manners are an expression of the distrust between the citizens and the political/official class in India today. The political leadership in the past decade has failed to take any decisive actions to reform the basic systems of governance in the country. Violence against women in Indian society can partly be addressed by reforming the police and judicial systems; in addition to detailed recommendations available through the Police and Judicial Reforms Commissions over the past 15 years, the Second administrative Reforms Commission setup by Dr Man Mohan Singh himself has asked for urgent reforms in these two basic institutions of safety and justice to citizens in a democracy. Today, Indian citizens are afraid of approaching police and judiciary to seek safety and justice as both these institutions are inefficient, out-moded and un accountable. Women’s safety in 21st century India can not be governed through 19th century police and judicial systems and procedures.

The other part of the solution lies in making political class accountable to its own behaviours—political leaders with rape cases are elected legislators in the country; political families and party workers continue to assume they are above scrutiny and law. Citizens are getting fed-up with public display of sympathy (as in attending and organising protests and visiting hospitals and airports ) while the personal and political actions of the very same people betray a complete disregard of the concerns and sensibilities of Indian citizens. How much longer will this ‘fraud’ continue to be perpetrated by Indian political class?

2.  With growing international status of Indian economy and business over the past decade, many reputed international MBA programmes bring their students for short visits to understand about the phenomena of India. In addition to the usual visits to corporate, government and media institutions, a visit to some civil society organisations has also become a part of this ritual. PRIA is seen as a welcome ‘hot spot’ to fulfill this purpose. The intelligent and curious students always wonder about the contradictions in India—a modern 21st century nation co-existing with 19th century institutions of governance and society. They think we have answers to their questions about such contradictions. Frankly, we don’t; can anyone please explain why manholes are still open, people still urinate in public and cobwebs in government offices still decorate the walls and ceilings?

3.  At the end of 2012, the global euphoria about the rising powers of BRICS countries has subdued a bit; the growth rates of economies in all BRICS countries have slowed down considerably. While size does matter (in both population and GDP terms), India and China are under severe global scrutiny in relation to the capacity and durability of their governance institutions and practices. A recent Bertelsman Report has pointed out severe constraints in the governance of all BRICS countries. In all these countries, irrespective of the nature of the systems of political governance, the political class is essentially acting in narrow self-serving manners. Larger national public good is not the consistent basis of political decision-making in these countries. If size alone mattered, dinosaurs would still be ruling the earth?

4.  Gujarat has been a historical centre for many civil society movements and actions for decades; Ahmedabad in particular has incubated many innovative voluntary organisations. In a recent conversation with a group of senior leaders of civil society in Gujarat, the questions related to their relevance to society did crop up; many felt that they needed to engage with new actors and new issues in new ways. However, there was a sense of confusion about what is the best way to move forward. In some ways, external constraints on resources and political space have had some impact. However, the sense of risk-taking and adventure in the unknown seem to be weak. This is not a phenomenon limited to Gujarat or India alone; it may well be the time of uncertainty and ambiguity in the world as a whole?

5.  The Parliament in India has passed a new law for publicly listed companies which mandates that 2% of annual profits be spent towards Corporate Social Responsibility. This provision now creates a compulsion on such companies to earmark, and spend, such funds towards some aspect of societal well-being. In the past, several public and private companies have been undertaking CSR activities, some seriously and some for mere publicity. Now with this mandate, the funds may well be larger, and temptation to utilize them for narrow corporate interests may be easier. Independent monitoring of the implementation of this new provision may well be needed if the spirit of the law is to be promoted for larger public goods.

Best wishes,

sincerely

Rajesh Tandon