Can “civil” society also reform the state?

-writing from Harvard Law School.


Over the last few months, people have either whole-heartedly supported Ana Hazare’s crusade against corruption, or have cautioned against the dangers of un-deliberated actions by civil society. Some have also taken pains to highlight how the movement is seemingly undemocratic.  One of the most interesting analyses I read of the whole movement explains the middle class support for the movement like this (my paraphrasing):

The reason the Indian middle-class came out in such high numbers to support Anna Hazare is not it’s particular concern for corruption. It goes deeper than that. This government promised economic and infrastructural reform to the Indian middle class, and it has not done anything in this regard. The tenure of this government has also been marked by high inflation, to which a global recession has also added. These factors have hit India’s growing middle class hard. They saw their incomes and their standard of living grow during the 1990s, and are becoming more and more aspirational. The lack of any energy on the part of the government in bringing in essential reforms, combined with a stagnation in income levels has greatly annoyed the middle-class.

This has in turn exacerbated this population’s anger against acts of corruption by government officials. In short, “There is a clear connection between the dramatic curbing of lifestyles and ambitions through rising prices and dips in earnings to growing insecurity and coming out on the streets in anger at the threat to the Great Middle Class Dream. The anger is directed at the government headed by Manmohan Singh for letting them down after giving them so much hope.”

Of all the opinions going around on whether the Lokpal movement was needed, or whether it is good, this reasoning for its broad-based support seems the most appealing to me. If it were not for the fact that many acts of corruption have come to light during its tenure, this government has done so little it may as well not have existed!

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