vol-LXXXIX : October 02, 2011

Dear Colleagues

Here is another set of reflections for your perusal:

1.  In a recent incident where a bridge in Montreal developed serious cracks, citizens began to ask for the report of technical inspection to be made public. The Transport Minister of Canada made an outrageous statement saying that the technical information contained therein is too complicated for citizens to understand! Does it sound familiar to you? How many times our ministers and senior government officials believe that the ordinary citizens are so naïve, ignorant and uneducated that they can not comprehend the complexities of state-crafts. In reality, such excuses are used to hide mistakes and corruption in those public institutions. Citizens understand decision-making; more importantly, citizens must understand!

2.  The streets in Colombo and the road to Jaffna are safe in Sri Lanka today. The war is over; most Tamils may not be asking for Eelam (homeland). But, there is an uneasy sense of exclusion in the north and east of the country. Recently held elections to local bodies in the northern province (after more than twenty years) have shown rejection of the regime in Colombo. This is an opportunity for civil society engagement to create space for conversations across communities in Sri Lanka such that a sense of belonging can be re-created amongst the Tamils. Civil society spaces are meant to nurture such dialogues, even if that space may appear to be restricted today.

3.  Labour Day parade in Toronto is held in September, not on May Day. However, it is an occasion for celebration and mutual recognition. Various unions from greater Toronto area participated in this parade. They showed off their colours and equipment; they demonstrated their leadership (a large number of them were women); they took pride in congratulating each other for a year of struggle. More importantly, the parade was full of families and children, who were actively performing in their own ways, and thereby getting educated in union organizing. Unions have become weak around the world these days; they are divided amongst themselves; and, their struggles and rallies rarely include their children. Organising for collective actions can be enjoyable and celebrated too!

4.  As protests of citizens seemed to gather momentum in support of Anna’s demands for a strong Lokpal Bill, several other voices began to appear in the media challenging Anna’s movement. Most of these persons have ‘comfortable and official’ relationship with the ruling regime in Delhi; some deliberately tried to paint Anna as a Hindu communalist; some advised against ‘undermining parliament’ in the same vain as the politicians. It was intriguing to see that certain members of such civil society even presented alternative concept papers on Lokpal Bill (NAC and Loksatta are credited with these) when the stand-off with the government had intensified. A similar ambiguity was visible in the responses (or lack thereof) of trade unions. In a way, in pursuit of democratic pluralism, were the actions of such civil society actors not undermining the citizens’ movement and Anna’s leadership of the same? What will happen in future if another political formation comes to power in Delhi and begins to harass and intimidate this set of civil society actors? How can united stands and voices of citizens be amplified?

5.  The movement of civil society internationally is facing multiple challenges today; space for dialogue and sharing is shrinking everywhere. Yet, in a gathering of CIVICUS in Montreal, its twenty year history showed how remarkable the journey has been. The engagement of youth in their communities is growing such that the future of civil society spaces may be secure. However, meaningful local engagement can be supported and recognized through global platforms and gatherings. 6. The anti-corruption movement in India is growing in a widespread and yet invisible manner; visibility is determined by the media these days. However, the media is also capable of creating an impression that the movement is divided; by highlighting voices of dissent, by repeatedly showing ‘bite-size’ remarks of certain civil society leaders, the media can create an impression that the movement is loosing momentum. Respected and visible leaders of civil society need to be watchful of this trend so that forces that resist change do not gain an upper hand. Transformative efforts in today’s India need many more voices and movements to challenge the status quo in governance. Revolution, reform and recreation towards a just society will have to be seen as mutually synergistic forces, and not antagonistic. Today is Gandhi’s birthday; his major contribution to India’s freedom struggle was unifying various strands of freedom struggle against the colonial rule. It is a useful reminder to contemporary struggles?

All the very best

Rajesh Tandon