and this too shall change!

*Vikram Lal

We are reproducing below the initial posts on Mr. Vikram Lal’s blog, not only because they provide a perceptive analysis of the significance of the campaign for Jan Lokpal Bill, but also because they help place the ongoing debate over the role of civil society in policy formation and law making in a theoretical framework. It will be our endeavour to bring to our readers interesting posts from this blog from time to time.


The Jan Lokpal Bill is dead — Long Live the Jan Lokpal Bill! Jun 22 Posted by vikramlal

The whole series of events, starting with the march from Ramlila Maidan to Jantar Mantar on 30th January 2011 right until the last meeting of the Joint Drafting Committee on 21st of June, has resulted in — along with the frustration — some extremely important gains.

The most critical gain is that the entire television watching public has been fed a minute-tominute account of the happenings — fasts, press conferences, marches, meetings, concocted DVDs, police action, denunciations, denials, Digvijayisms, leaks and more leaks — over this long period. This means that most people have an idea of what is being demanded and what is being offered or denied, and they have an image of who seems truthful and who is hiding behind verbiage and cynicism.

The matter has been debated in most families and amongst all kinds of groups. Everyone has his/her own idea of what should be done, who should be covered, how the Lokpals should be chosen, and so on. That is how it should be in an active democracy. This is the other gain — that a very important Bill has been discussed threadbare in public well before it has gone to Parliament. Compare this to the normal process: government introduces a Bill (with little or no information to the public), and before we know it, it has been voted and passed. The public, including the media, is not involved.

The third gain is that now at least both government and Anna Hazare’s team know what the sticking points are. There is no mystery. This is vital because each side has to go back to the drawing board and see what are its non-negotiable issues, and which ones could be diluted or even dropped. One can’t be sure this will happen, but it is the need if eventually a compromise has to be arrived at.

The fourth gain is that we have a true Gandhian leading the movement. Anna Hazare was hidden in rural Maharashtra, and if anyone in the rest of the country had heard of him it was without the knowledge of his achievements, his ethics and his attitude to life, his willingness to sacrifice for the common good. To have such a person is a godsend — they are very rare, and becoming rarer all the time.

Another advantage is that Anna’s team has been through fire and has come out at the other end more mature and realistic. To use the cricket analogy, unless you have played a test match, you really don’t know what it takes. The whole group of five has been on national TV throughout; each one has been subjected to accusations of one or more kinds, and has had to live them down; each one has had to explain and argue in public and in front of — at times unsympathetic and even hostile — media what was earlier discussed amongst like-minded people.

A major eye-opener were the events concerning Ramdevji, his team and his followers. Ramdevji has turned out to be two things — a formal supporter of Anna’s team and of their efforts, and a serious distraction, attempting to use this opportunity for his oft-stated objective of entering politics. His actions helped government in painting the anti-corruption movement with a brush that is no longer completely white — it has, in government’s eyes, shades of saffron. Ramdevji’s kingdom of land and money is both his strength and his possible undoing – he has become a target for government and he probably has much explaining to do. His sectarianism got government particularly agitated, and brought about the totally unjustified midnight lathi-charge. The gain here is that he is now a known quantity, and Anna’s team knows much better how to deal with him.

And finally, we know who the ‘enemy’ is. A newspaper who one would have assumed to be on the side of the public in this argument has turned out to be viciously against it, and very much for those threatened by the Lokpal Bill. On the other hand, another newspaper that may have been opposed has turned out to be a supporter. But let no one have any illusions about the task ahead. The coalition of those threatened is large and very powerful. It includes all businesses — especially big — that use money to get their way, all politicians in or out of power (except LokSatta, and perhaps some elements of the left, to give them their due), a large percentage of the bureaucracy, and almost the whole of the police system. Arrayed against this is a people’s movement. How deep and strong this movement is we do not yet know, but are likely to find out fairly soon — as soon as Anna goes on his next fast.

Although the definition of ‘civil society’ is given in another post, it is worth keeping it in mind while discussing anything to do with the Lokpal Bill:

“Civil society is the arena, outside of the family, the state, and the market, where people associate to advance common interests.”

‘Civil Society’ – definitions anyone?

Jun 22

Posted by vikramlal

The term ‘civil society’ has come into use prominently with the inclusion of Anna Hazare’s team on the Joint Drafting Committee to draft a Lokpal Bill. The term is vague in most people’s minds, and requires a clear definition. As it turns out, that is wishful thinking! The situation is much more complicated than that.

To start off, let us take the most succinct definition given in Wikipedia, one arrived at by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, as part of their research on the state of civil society in over 50 countries around the world. It has adopted the following definition as means of dealing with this issue: ”(civil society is) the arena, outside of the family, the state, and the market where people associate to advance common interests.”

Wikipedia has two more expansive definitions. The first one is:

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.

The second definition was arrived at by the London School of Economics’ Centre for Civil Society:

Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organizations, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, selfhelp groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups.

However, if someone is interested in all aspects of civil society as it has evolved over the centuries and the many ways in which it has been defined, the proper place to go is the book written by Michael Edwards (who is the Director of the Ford Foundation’s Governance and Civil Society Unit in New York) or, to start with, this website that gives a briefer version of his views:

Here is an attempt to list all the kinds of organisations, associations, groups that constitute CIVIL SOCIETY (please suggest any others):

• RWAs (resident welfare associations)

• NGOs (non-government organisations)

• Charitable institutions

• Educational institutions that are not-for-profit

• Alumni associations

• Sports clubs

• Social clubs

• Associations for festivals

• Satsang groups

• Unions

• Business associations

• Activity societies (astronomy, bird-watching, theatre, music, yoga, walking)

• Armed forces veterans’ associations

• Religious groupings

• Advocacy groups (environment, SPCA, anti-alcohol, gay rights)

• Self-help groups

• Professional associations (CAs, engineers, artists)

* Mr. Vikram Lal, former Chairman of the Eicher Group and a noted social entrepreneur, is President of Common Cause. His blog may be accessed at

July– September, 2011