Perspective | Oped


How ‘civil’ is civil society
Civil society groups rise from the ashes of the failures of the government and the state.
But the government must learn to transform the challenges into an opportunity

Shyamal Datta
recent parleys between the Government of India and the Civil Society Group led by Anna Hazare,on the formulation of the Lokpal Bill, brought to the fore three developments of interest.


fifty fifty
Political Protests-Bollywood Ishtyle
Kishwar desai
the drama unfolding over Anna Hazare's arrest—one can only wish that politicians watched a few more films these days. 


Shame of impeachment 
August 20, 2011
New venue, old plans
August 19, 2011
A judicial blow
August 18, 2011
The escalating standoff
August 17, 2011
Unwarranted US comment
August 15, 2011
Our ability to change India in a globalised world
August 14, 2011
Hope or gloom?
August 13, 2011
Dealing with mercy petitions
August 12, 2011
Colleges without teachers
August 11, 2011
Mahapanchayats’ call
August 10, 2011
US tsunami hits Asia
August 9, 2011

On the record by 
Forestry gets scientific base
Jotirmay Thapliyal 
1979 batch Indian Forest Service officer of the Tripura cadre, V.K. Bahuguna took over this year as the Director General of Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) at Dehradun. He was earlier posted as Technical Expert (Forestry, Administration and Finance)  in the National Rainfed Authority (NRAA).

Magsaysay for micro- credit
Harihar Swarup
was a time when Nileema Mishra had to sell her mother's ancestral jewels to start a social group. A resolute Nileema had announced at the age of 13 that she wanted to devote her life for the people of her village Bahadurpur in Jalgaon dist. Twenty five years later, Nileema has been awarded the prestigious Magsaysay Award for empowering women of over 200 villages in Maharashtra with her organisation Bhagini Niveditha Gramin Vigyan Nikethan( BNGVN).



How ‘civil’ is civil society
Civil society groups rise from the ashes of the failures of the government and the state.
But the government must learn to transform the challenges into an opportunity

Shyamal Datta

The recent parleys between the Government of India and the Civil Society Group led by Anna Hazare,on the formulation of the Lokpal Bill, brought to the fore three developments of interest.

One was the overbearing attitude of an NGO to try and dictate to the government what should be the contours of a Bill to be passed by Parliament. Second was a larger than life image acquired by some of the civil society groups, which smarted under a self belief that they could force the government to toe their line. The third development was the spontaneity with which public outrage was triggered, during the protracted debate against the surge of corruption in public life.

The cumulative effect of the three was that the government looked a bit distraught under tremendous pressure but, justifiably, continued negotiations in a bid to try and accommodate their view points and sentiment to the extent it considered feasible and appropriate.

In this backdrop, it will be in order to present an overview of the activities of the civil society groups since its emergence from the late seventies, for the people to know, understand and appreciate the ramifications of the growing phenomenon.

Traditionally, sections of civil society formed part of the symbiotic relationships between the state and communities without much stress and strain. Today, in the absence of any legal definition, the organisation comprises a wide range of civil society and interest groups which are also called Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) and non-profit associations. The people associated with them are generally human rights/social activists, academics, intellectuals, celebrities, high profile journalists, think tank hirelings, retired bureaucrats, jurists, lawyers, environmentalists and so on. They espouse the cause of the members and others, based on ethical, social, cultural, political, economic, security and philanthropic considerations.

The origin

It was in the tribal belt of Bihar, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh that the activities of an outfit called the Social Action Group(SAG),came to notice in the seventies, focusing attention on the sufferings of the tribal people. Slowly and gradually,the SAGs started making their presence felt under the leadership of people known for their radical thinking and selfless service to society, mostly from outside the region. The thrust of their objective was to emerge as an alternative to the administration, taking full advantage of poor infrastructures of road connectivity and transportation which made the presence of the govt. representatives in the region conspicuous by their absence. Of concern was the subtle ways with which the leaders carried out political indoctrination of the indigenous people, exploiting their pent up feelings of distrust and disaffection towards the government and the state.

A close scrutiny revealed linkages of some of these outfits with the organisation known as the Christian Action Group (CAG).The activities of the CAG were mostly religious and philanthropic, involving the local Christian community. Education, health, water, sanitation and doles of different types formed the bulk of their social responsibility. Soon the people of the region started looking up to the SAGs and the CAG as the provider of help and relief of all sorts with the Church acting as the pivot, and some international donors as the conduit of funding under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act ( FCRA ).

A lacunae that remained in the government monitoring was with regard to the actual use of funds received through both overt and covert channels. Another serious shortcoming was the inadequacies on the part of the administration to redress the grievances of the people even by forging some kind of partnership with the SAGs and others and try to reach the fruits of several affirmative actions of the government for the people.

A study revealed that the NGOs really mushroomed with the end of the cold war and the onset of globalisation of economy. Overnight, Human Rights Groups appeared on the scene with an aggressive propaganda, characterising the actions of the Security Forces dealing with terrorism and insurgency in conflict-prone regions as violative of human rights. The prompt support extended by their international counterparts imparted a measure of legitimacy to the campaign. The latter also lined up other support and assistance in money and kind to raise the tempo of the publicity.

The immediate fall out was that the Security Forces in J&K and the North East felt restrained and the terrorist groups were encouraged to step up militancy. The uproar and publicity made it very clear that the atrocities and brutalities by the terrorist and insurgent groups, causing untold human casualties and sufferings, did not matter since these did not amount to the so called violation of human rights. What really mattered to the Human Rights Groups was the life and safety of the terrorists and insurgents and not of the innocent civilians.

Challenge to the state

Over the years, the clout and influence of the civil society groups grew manifold, posing a challenge to the state. Some of the NGOs tried to set international standards and script new rules of business and conduct, overriding the claims of national or regional singularity, territorial borders etc. They tried to force compliance with these by the states where they operated. The objective was to compel the national or state governments to share powers so that the NGOs could bring to bear on them sufficient pressure to follow a particular course of action dictated by them.

In terms of resources and expertise, some of these NGOs are sometimes as strong, if not stronger, than some of the small sovereign states and international bodies. Their range of activities is multi-dimensional and goes beyond all proportions. They have the capacity and capability to breed new ideas, advocate protests, mobilise support, both within and across the borders, provide goods and services, shape, implement and enforce national and international commitments. The vast networking within and outside the territorial boundaries, offers the civil society groups an unprecedented channel, reach, and extent of influence. Some of the NGO leaders who have developed a high profile, acclaim, and popularity, have managed to influence the decision making process of the government from within by being part of government delegations.

The revolution in Information Technology has broken all physical barriers, connecting the people across the borders with growing ease to separate them from natural and historical associations within nations. This has brought in place a powerful globalising force with capacity and prospects of amplifying social and political fragmentation by enabling more and more identities and interests catered around the globe, to coalesce and thrive. It has potential of creating new forces of stress, strain and unrest in regions or areas otherwise peaceful and stable. This has helped the NGOs draw world-wide media attention to issues or causes that may not be very desirable in the interests of a polity.

The NGOs must see to it that their track record improves, showing greater loyalty and better orientation towards programmes and measures meant to resolve people's problems with speed and commitment. They try to outperform the government agencies in the delivery of public services and goods, and project the latter in poor light. They anticipate and respond to new demands and challenges much better and much before the state does. All these help rally the people around and fuel disaffection towards the state.

Ever since security has become a concern with life and dignity and the credibility of the government is being judged by the measure of freedom available to the people from fear and want, the field of activities and interference of NGOs have increased exponentially, and become more frequent.

Information technology

The democratisation of technology and violence has vested the civil society groups with the capacity to undermine the state's monopoly on the legitimate use of force. It was the lack of equation of power between the state and the citizen that helped the state, in the past, to keep a semblance of order and stability. It also provided the glue required to keep modern civilization together. Now, Information Technology has seriously weakened the state's monopoly on the generation, collection, collation, and dissemination of information. It has made central control on the storage and flow of information difficult. It has connected everyone but left none in command and control.

The satellite communication has opened highways and super-highways providing access to information with the same speed to both the government and the civil society groups. Earlier, it was very difficult for the latter to obtain but now, with the press of a key, the whole world of information is available on the screen of the computer. Depending on the requirements of the NGOs and others, the information is collected, collated, coordinated and refined for commission of acts which may or may not be prejudicial to the interests of the state and the government.

The important question that confronts us is how do we deal with the NGOs and transform multi-dimensional challenges they pose into opportunities to strengthen the state and the government. It is time that the government accepts that in today's complex world, it is not possible for it and its agencies to keep track of happenings around the world and round the clock. The dynamic situation demands that the frameworks of the NGOs and the government dovetail at different levels as an institutionalised arrangement and, as and when considered necessary, for better understanding and appreciation of problems, issues and situation before policies are framed and programmes of action formulated and implemented.

There is a need for structured consultations between the two for meeting the gaps and inadequacies in information/ knowledge while reviewing the politics, policies and administration for correction and improvement. A two way traffic under a proper mechanism can go a long way to impart the sweep and speed necessary for an effective handling of any developing situation. The only areas of exception should be matters of national security and external relations.

A well set drill is in place to deal with the NGOs and civil society groups when they come to adverse notice for either keeping bad company or working to the detriment of national interests. This requires a constant review and updating to plug the loop holes, if any, and revamp the system. With regard to the civil society groups which are prone to cause hurdles and difficulties in proper tackling and management of any emerging situation, the government should brook no delay in firmly dealing with the ulterior designs, if any, to make the state vulnerable. On their part, the civil society groups must refrain from arrogating to themselves the role of dictating terms to the government. They should come to terms with the reality that they lack the stomach or the stamina to take on the government or the state which are too big and strong to be coerced to act and sign on the lines dictated by them. The wisdom would lie in conforming to well established rules of prudence.


On the other hand, the government has to bear in mind that the lack of strategic thinking, dysfunctional administration, delay in putting its acts together, self destructive streaks, talking in different voices, moving in different directions and inability to combine power with principle in a dispassionate manner, provide space and fodder for the growth and irresponsible behaviour of civil society groups.

The latter rise from the ashes of the failures of the government and the state. The strategic thinking underscores the imperative need for consultations with the civil society groups to get integrated into the systems and institutions of the government at different levels so that a strong bridge of relationship is built with boundaries of propriety, legal, constitutional and moral, properly delineated and clearly understood by the concerned players and the people.

On the operational side, these challenges would require proper and regular upgrading of four distinct elements of intelligence and warning, prevention and deterrence, crisis and consequence management and coordinated acquisition of equipment and technology for application. Without these, the state will often be found remiss in its approach and action. The formulation of the National Security Doctrine, for which a Task Force was set up recently by the government under the chairmanship of former Cabinet Secretary Naresh Chandra, would require an in-depth study of all these issues for the nation to have in place an institutionalised response mechanism, after 64 years of independence.

(The writer is former Director, Intelligence Bureau and Governor of Nagaland)



fifty fifty
Political Protests-Bollywood Ishtyle
Kishwar desai

Watching the drama unfolding over Anna Hazare's arrest—one can only wish that politicians watched a few more films these days. I have no doubt that if Mr Chidambaram, Mr Manmohan Singh or even Mr Rahul Gandhi dipped into Indian cinema —they would have been familiar with some of the messages and the iconography used in recent films and the Anna Hazare protest movement. They would have anticipated the ability of Team Anna to unite the youth and instead of sending out authoritarian messages, combined a deep empathy with firmness to control the situation. It is quite true that Indian cinema does reflect the reality of the time we live in and so unsurprisingly, the portrayal of the corrupt politician in cinema has grown in recent years. He is evil personified in cahoots with the underworld. In the old days, villains who destabilised the country were usually propped up by foreign powers: now it is the home grown political class which is the anti-hero. Thus in re-inventing their own image—the government needs to look less angry and aggressive -and also they must anticipate the nature of the protests taking place these days, especially if they are propped up by popular media.

Further, thanks to twitter, Facebook and YouTube, video-clips and messages go viral instantly-and people are participating ( as they have done in Egypt and elsewhere) in an ongoing reality show, or non- stop feature film. Even for those who have not followed the Arab Spring, Indian cinema has given enough fodder for rules of behavior during mass protests.

In almost every film made in recent years with an anti-establishment message, there has been a candle light vigil or a mass movement of some kind, or even just media frenzy leading to a usually bloody denouement. Mobocracy rules and when one of the more successful films of this genre Rang De Basanti (RDB) arrived on the scene, I remember being repelled by the message that only violence can pave the way for change. According to RDB , it is time for a revolution but the political class we have elected is too deeply entrenched in corruption and is too powerful. We can only get rid of evil politicians if we shoot the political criminals. The danger is that, according to this philosophy, the terrorists who attacked parliament could be hailed as heroes.

Yet, it is a nihilistic and simplistic philosophy being used in certain parts of the country -for instance the Maoists, who would advocate sedition in order to win back their own rights. But RDB also had a more powerful yet subtle message : it was not just about the youth arming themselves for another independence movement -it was also about rousing the consciousness of civil society. This was an important film because it was about the politicisation of disaffected youth and unifying them against corruption. This was not an agenda of the secularists which plays upon our differences —the Amar Akbar Anthony formula, which harps on "unity in diversity" . Corruption, as RDB correctly judged, affects many more people in modern India than do the issues of religion.

The image used in RBD was the death of a young air force officer piloting precarious aircraft. Corruption per se of course is not a new theme, it has been used throughout in Indian cinema: the adulteration of food, bribing of an official, or the exploitation of women. But in this film, for the first time, we had a full frontal attack on the political class by a group of college going students. The film was well made, with rousing songs and credible characters. Like the old war film, Haqeeqat , by using the image of the unnecessary sacrifice of our young soldiers —it brought tears and reflection.

Yet the advocacy of violence in RDB, one hoped, was not going to be the way forward : we have enough day-to-day aggression in the country , and we did not need to propagate any more of it through cinema. But RDB obviously touched on a raw nerve —and even though his is a peaceful movement Anna Hazare and his team have used much of the same iconography.

They, too, are using the youthful images of Bhagat Singh and his cohorts to encourage the youth to come out onto the streets. It was also interesting that when Arvind Kejriwal spoke about the burning of the government draft of the Lokpal Bill, he compared it to the burning of the identity cards in South Africa by Mahatma Gandhi. Though he likened it not to the historical event but to the scene in the film on Gandhi.

Thus, there is a very conscious and deliberate decision to play on the likeness between what is happening today and what took place pre-1947. And those who object to the comparisons between Anna Hazare and Mahatma Gandhi must wake up and realise that the great soul was very much a creation of the media. Except in those days it was the foreign press who was fascinated by Gandhi-and he went out of his way to create incidents and strategies on how he could remain in the forefront. For those who want a quick reference on how Gandhi manipulated the media I would advise them to read Great Soul by Joseph Lelyveld.

And why not? If you lead a violent movement , like Osama bin Laden, then it is easy to grab the headlines. But a non-violent movement depends on numbers and strategy.

Perhaps after RDB, there have been other films on similar lines —but till another disturbing film, Rajneeti , came along the nature of current politics had not been discussed in Indian cinema. However, Rajneeti too was extremely violent : a combination of Godfather and Mahabharat. The mafia-type projection of politicians may not be universal—but it has only helped the cynicism to grow. The thinly disguised characters were given biographies which would not lead to any connection to living persons-but the insinuations were obvious.

Coincidentally in his new film Aarakshan (about which I do have many reservations) Prakash Jha has given a more peaceful ending: when the mob gathers at the end against the unjust demolition of their coaching schools, it is a Gandhian protest. But, just before the protesting mob led by Amitabh Bachchan can be mowed down, a phone call is made by a once powerful woman who has taken sanyas ( played, ironically by BJP MP, Hema Malini) to the Chief Minister to call off the demolition. Her timely intervention turns the tide .So is the country awaiting a phone call? No prizes for guessing who I am referring to.

Kishwar Desai writes a fortnightly column for The Sunday Tribune



On the record by 
Forestry gets scientific base
Jotirmay Thapliyal 

A 1979 batch Indian Forest Service officer of the Tripura cadre, V.K. Bahuguna took over this year as the Director General of Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) at Dehradun. He was earlier posted as Technical Expert (Forestry, Administration and Finance) in the National Rainfed Authority (NRAA).

V.K Bahuguna
V.K Bahuguna

ICFRE has been engaged in forestry Research for a long time. But why are there still doubts whether the fruits of such research actually reach and benefit the people ?

From the day one I am focusing on the extension part of the ICFRE. We are highlighting that our researches are based on increasing livelihood opportunities for the people and have launched "Direct to Consumer' schemes to immediately benefit the people with our research activities. We have to work on keda Jadi (Yarsa Gumba) and other indigenous edible items like Jhangora and Kodo. The ICFRE is already into preparation of board and other furniture items from weed like Lantana and Parthenium.

What is being done to gain and hone expertise in forestry ?

We have adopted a more practical approach towards overseas training programme for the scientists. Scientists are now being trained in South East Asian training institutes as the climatic conditions and vegetation in these countries are quite similar to that of India. This is being done under arrangements which involve exchange of scientists. Further, two groups have been formed. While a Ginger Group of Scientists have been launched for coming up with innovative ideas, a Knowledge Forum has also been constituted for IFS officers so that maximum advantage could be derived from their field visits.

Why was the first Indian Forestry Conference shifted from Dehradun to Delhi ?

ICFRE is conducting the First Indian Forestry Conference in Delhi shortly. Yes, the venue was shifted from Dehradun to Delhi but purely due to logistical reasons. We need big infrastructure to hold a conference of such nature and this was not possible in Doon. We will be releasing a journal - ICFRE in Service of Nation. This journal will have comprehensive information on all the technologies so far innovated by the ICFRE.

ICFRE has taken the lead in climate change studies. What more is being done ?

ICFRE has submitted a Rs 686 crore-proposal to the Union Environment and Forestry Ministry for conducting research on climate related issues under the Green India Mission. ICFRE is also coming up with an All India Coordinated Research Project on climate change. We are also cooperating with United States Forest Service on climate change mitigation and capacity building.

The council has also written to the Ministry for voluntarily taking up REDD ( Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) plus work with the Uttarakhand Forest Department.

There were apprehensions that publication of the Indian Forestry Journal could become irregular ?

We understand the importance of the Indian Forestry Journal, the only peer reviewed journal in the world. International Experts have been brought into the editorial board and its timely publication has been ensured. It has also been made into an e-journal. This journal, that started way back in 1875, continues to be a storehouse of information for those who are interested.

Scientists in ICFRE feel they are ignored and treated worse than the officers belonging to the Indian Forest Service ?

Apart from improving the training aspect of scientists, we have introduced a new Performa for the assessment of scientists. The new Department of Personnel and Training initiated Performa that has been brought into implementation at ICFRE will ensure better promotional opportunities for the bright scientists. This has been a long pending demand of scientists here at ICFRE. 



Magsaysay for micro- credit
Harihar Swarup

There was a time when Nileema Mishra had to sell her mother's ancestral jewels to start a social group. A resolute Nileema had announced at the age of 13 that she wanted to devote her life for the people of her village Bahadurpur in Jalgaon dist. Twenty five years later, Nileema has been awarded the prestigious Magsaysay Award for empowering women of over 200 villages in Maharashtra with her organisation Bhagini Niveditha Gramin Vigyan Nikethan( BNGVN).

With the jewels sold, Nileema opened a few joint bank accounts, bought four computers and so began her work of offering micro credit to rural women in the process of empowering them. Now, she has decided to donate the entire prize money of $50,000 ( Rs 22 lakh) to her rural micro credit project to surf the perpetual crisis of funds. In the past, she got around half a dozen small awards, and every paise she received was donated to the cause.

The 39-year-old, Nileema, who has a Master's in clinical psychology, says the biggest problem in rural areas is lack of opportunities and limited or no access to credit facilities. Shortly after graduation in 1995, she decided to address the economic problems of the poor rural folk, plunging headlong into social service. She started BNGVN on a humble scale with a committed handful of 14 women to realise Mahatma Gandhi's ideals of self-sufficient village communities. She helped these women turn into entrepreneurs, who made quilts from home. Soon the numbers grew.

Today, there are around 1,800 such women's self-help groups with more than 10,000 women involved in it. Battling many odds, Nileeema has made a name for herself in the field of rural social work and has brought pride and international honour to Jalgoan.

Born in Bahadurpur ,Nileema is daughter of Chandra Shekhar Mishra, a retired school headmaster. Mishra says that since her early childhood, when she was less than ten years old, Nileema could strike a chord with people in the neighbourhood by her outgoing and helpful nature. " She has the passion for helping people, sometimes sacrificing her own time and resources made her a very popular figure in the town", says Mishra.

When Nileema went to Pune to complete her Master's in clinical psychology, she came in contact with children of well-known personalities. Though she hailed from a middle-class rural background, it was her helpful nature that made her instantly popular. Her resolve at an early age, not to marry, and to devote herself to rural social work was strengthened when she travelled across the country while working with an NGO, Vigyan Ashram, near Pune, for eight long years.

Even today, many of her classmates and friends, some of whom belong to the biggest industrial or political families in the state, treat her affectionately. "Do not give charity and make people dependent. Instead, make them self-sufficient and independent to face life," they advised her, and she heeded. These friends are still around and are willing to spend any amount for making people self-reliant and to help them stand on their feet. Her work is a proof of their support.

Originally from Uttar Pradesh, the Mishras are settled in Maharashtra for seven generations. As a child, Nileema was witness to tragedies such as the plight of widows and elderly people. "It left a deep impact on me. It was the turning point, for, after that I decided that I would never marry and instead devote my life to the uplift of those not as fortunate as me," she says.

Nileema strongly believes in the resolve of the villagers to identify their problems and find solutions to bring themselves out of poverty. She sees her role as a 'facilitator' guiding people to become self-reliant. 



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