Monday, July 11, 2011

Observe. Speak. Listen. Help.

Can anyone explain to me why on earth should civil society be compelled to run for elections in order to participate in national policy discussions? This post is my rebuttal to this bizarre demand from select members of the Indian Twitterrati from all walks of life...well, as much as you can get on Twitter.


It is really strange to hear people who tweet away merrily on twitter protest against the voiceless and powerless getting heard.

Is it so hard to understand that people who win elections are not the only ones qualified to speak up?
You guys are speaking too. Pfft.

There are hazaar files on every government officer's desk. We need our activists, researchers, NGOs to help the voiceless get heard.

Government is busy firefighting and tackling the urgent matters of the day. We need our NGOs and researchers to highlight the important issues.

We need a pluralistic society. We need to be informed by the perspectives of the business, religious, academic, and non profit sections.

Who do you think has the crucial job of connecting the local needs to the national power players? Not the MNCs. Not the stock market. I really don't understand what gives you the right to demand that the people doing this crucial job go run for elections instead.

What is the motive of a politician? Re-election and his own personal legacy.
What is the motive of a businessman? Profits and his own personal legacy.
What is the motive of an activist? To get the voiceless heard.

Watch for the personal integrity of an activist much much more than that of a politician or businessman. It is all an activist has. Dishonesty is not only acceptable, it is encouraged in politics and business if it serves the end goal. Not so in academia and nonprofit.

Because one particular civil society group was successful in getting an issue on the national radar, aapko jalan kyu ho rahi hai? Aapne pehle kabhi to yeh sab nahi kaha. Why shouldn't Oxfam and Action Aid and UN agencies also contest local elections everywhere then?

I don't hear you demanding that FICCI and CII go stand for elections. Or religious leaders (who already do stand for elections). I don't hear anyone asking IMF&World Bank to stand for elections. Aapko suddenly elections aaj yaad aayein hai jab koi nek insaan dikha?

An activist is only an agent for the larger mission. He has no personal stake in the mission, not any more than any other citizen.

People who have never felt powerless in their own lives have no idea what it is like and how crucial any and all advocacy is.

You cannot expect a single minister/department/agency to know or care about the issues and geographic areas concerned for that portfolio. Some people spend their entire lives working on a single issue. Ministers come and go and do what they like as they see fit.

It's nice when they are but do not expect politicians and businessmen to be knowledgeable, sincere, honest or sympathetic to local needs.

Hum sabhi wohi karte hai jo hum chahte hain. It is incredibly difficult to teach anyone introspection, compassion, honesty or empathy.

For an academic or NGO or journalist or activist, personal integrity is everything. Throw out rotten apples. Don't burn down the orchard.

If there is a space for corporate lobbying, how can you deny the space for civil society, a far more important player for policy work? Iska matlab, aap kehna chhahte hain ki jab tak NGOs chhote-mote rahe, tab tak theek hain uske aage unnati na ho toh behtar hain.

Whoever told you that nobody other than elected politicians knows anything about policy-making? Phir aap sab kya karte hai? Is all this jabber just the familiar crab joke? Can y'all not stand to see one civil society group actually made a little headway?

If you want NGOs and activists to run, you should ask all businessmen to go stand for elections too if they want a say in policy making. Just where do you get off suggesting that if an issue did not come up through an election, it is not worthy of national attention?

Every human has different skill sets. We do what we can with that skill set on whatever field we pick or whatever field picks us. Should Amartya Sen stand for local elections instead of using the skills he has to further our knowledge and understanding on policy?

Some of us are just not governed by material or personal ambitions. Is this news to you? Have you also never heard "Do good. Be good."

If it is so hard for you to recognize honesty and integrity, what does that say about you?

Wisdom is more important than information. Empathy is more important than knowledge.

In politics, success = re-elections and holding onto power.
In business, success = money.
In activism, success = getting voiceless heard.

Yes, some politicians are honest. Yes, some businessmen are philanthropists. Yes, some academics are useless. Yes, some NGOs are frauds.

I have worked in government, in academia, in non profit, in a start up, in an international organization, in corporate. No one is evil.

No matter where you are and what you do, hold on to your ethics, your personal integrity and your principles. Everything else is worthless.


vidyut said...

Really liked "Is it so hard to understand that people who win elections are not the only ones qualified to speak up? You guys are speaking too. Pfft."

Pretty much sums up the problem. The people recommending political voice only are civilians. So, on one hand, apparently Team Anna shouldn't mae a public comment without being elected, on the other, not only are they not elected, but also they aren't supported like the Lokpal protests by the citizen. Why would their voice be any more valid than those they want silenced?

Vijay Mishra said...

For last few months, I keep hearing the words "Civil society" time and again and all the arguments and discussion around these of repeated words.

So what exactly is "Civil society" . Wikipedia describes civil society as :

Civil society is composed of the totality of voluntary social
relationships, civic and social organizations, and institutions that
form the basis of a functioning society, "as distinct from the force-backed structures of a state (regardless of that state's political system)" and "the commercial institutions of the market."
Together, state, market and civil society constitute the entirety of a
society, and the relations between these three components determine the
character of a society and its structure.

 Any society would not be complete with  "state" and "market" unless there is mesh of civil society to bind it. The definition itself dismisses the logic of Civil society members fighting or winning an election.

Electoral politics, even though one of the most foundational aspect of any democracy, can not itself ensure democratic society for always.In any democracy the supreme power is vested  in the people and can be exercised by them either directly or through their elected agents.

Elected representative "is not" and "should not" be my "sole" representative of my views and opinions.

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