Thursday, November 05, 2009

Civil Society and Democracy

Today's Indian Express has a thought provoking editorial on the role of "civil society" in a democracy. There is also an interesting opinion by Dheeraj Nayyar on the same issue. The provocation for both pieces is a letter written by various "eminent" people asking for the appointment of Kiran Bedi as the Chief Information Commissioner. If Kiran Bedi is not appointed, the letter, apparently, goes on to request the government to explain how somebody else was found suitable. I must admit that I find the request asking the government to explain the "better" suitability of somebody else quite strange. Can, and does, the government do that for any post where there are unlimited contenders? At best, it can probably explain why a particular person is found suitable. The principal point in the Indian Express pieces and various others on the subject is whether so-called civil society should aim to become an alternate power centre or just a forum demanding accountability? I think it should stick to being a forum demanding accountability rather than trying to force the government to make certain decisions. It is important for civil society groups not to convert their frustration with government processes into steps that appear as power hungry or undemocratic! If they do, they are undermining the very processes they are seeking to strengthen. So, while the demand to appoint Kiran Bedi is probably fair, the request for a justification of her unsuitability in case somebody else is appointed is, I believe, not a welcome request.
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