vol-LXXX : January 3, 2011

Dear Colleagues

Wish you a peaceful and productive 2011.

Here is another round of for your perusal:

1. The most serious assault on democratic space for civil society in India has been dealt last week in the conviction of Binayak Sen for sedition by a court in Chhattisgarh. Not only that the conviction is erroneous, even the enquiry, trial and media leaks by the investigating agencies have been secretive, distorted and motivated. The assault on democratic space for civil society in the maoist-infested tribal regions of the country has been going on for several years, and has been ‘blessed’ through the public admonition of civil society by the Home Minister of India himself. The government machinery in administration and law & order is unable to defend its callous approach to the development of India’s indigenous communities, and hence the assault on all those who advocate for the inclusive and dignified development of all citizens. Is this the price for growth?

2. Azim Premji, the founder of WIPRO, has just announced a philanthropic gift of $2bn from his wealth towards improvements in education in India. This is indeed laudable, and may hopefully stimulate further philanthropic actions by the new rich of India. Much needs to be done to improve education in India—from primary to tertiary levels; central and state governments are allocating huge public funds towards the same; private investments and participation in education is growing as well. Premji’s gift may thus further that agenda. However, what is even more urgent and critical in today’s India is the sustained mobilization of voice and action by citizens and their associations in each village and town of India, aiming to hold public agencies to account and deliver. The mere interest on Premji’s gift could contribute to such a vibrant civic movement in all of India’s villages and towns, provided the courage to confront the state apparatus is behind it?

3. Debating inequities in Asia is not so common these days as celebrating growth in Asia; yet, such a discourse took place recently in Bangkok. In country after country, the growth story had made a remarkable impact on reduction of poverty and increase of income. Yet, the inequalities have also grown in each Asian country. More importantly, economic disparities have further enhanced social distancing. Populations at risk have increased, just as vulnerability of habitats has grown; building and sustaining resilience at household, community and habitat levels is key to address such trends. As new market-driven models (like social and impact investing) enter the field of human and social development, assessments of and coping with risks inherent in the market may require new capacities in civil society?

4. Over the past year since Copenhagen conclave on climate change, there has been much discussion about the need for new technologies and funds for adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries. Very little has been said in public debates about capacities of ‘northern’ countries and communities to cope with impacts of climate changes. Yet, a look at snow-covered Europe at the end of November-beginning December this past month suggests that future is likely to be even more uncertain. Therefore, it is somewhat shocking that life came to a complete standstill in frozen UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, etc. Transport systems choked up; institutions like universities were shut down; families didn’t have the capacity to get out of their homes even? May be, impact of climate change in Europe and North America will be the focus for some future conference?

5. That massive corruption has intruded all aspects of daily life of ordinary citizens in India is no big news now. Most citizens have reconciled to their anger against brazen corruption as well. Yet, the recent public dissemination of ‘Nadia tapes’ (showing mobile conversations of a high-flying lobbyist) has shown well-known, much-awarded and celebrity journalists engaging in all kinds of influence-peddling, obviously for a consideration. The great Indian media story needs a critical scrutiny in the face of such revelations, specially when all TV news channels run into huge and continuous financial losses. Who will hold the ‘powerful’ and brazen media institutions and their even more powerful editors and journalists to account?

6. The odds against democratic governance from the lens of ordinary citizens do seem to add up considerably as we begin 2011.

All the very best
Rajesh Tandon