Vol-XCV : April 1, 2012


Dear Colleagues 

Today is April Fool’s Day——a day when jokes and pranks are common. What follows is otherwise, for your perusal:

1. Governmental efforts to control and regulate civil society continue unabated in India. In the state of Madhya Pradesh, the current BJP regime has resurrected a 15 years old formation called ‘Jan AbhiyanParishad’ (People’s Campaign Council) to coordinate the activities of voluntary organisations. It is headed by the Chief Minister of the state, and run by officials so appointed. It is entirely funded by state government, has set-up district level offices, and engages in activities to support new initiatives in voluntary action—this programme is blessed by invoking Vedic verses. Those civil society groups which do not follow the ruling ideology are being squeezed out now, since they do not get the support from such public funds.

2. The fourth BRICS Summit (heads of states of Brazil, Russia, India, China& South Africa) was hosted in Delhi on March 29. The declaration from the Summit reiterated the importance of people-to-people exchanges and mutual learning across BRICS countries. In so doing, youth, media, academia, sports and culture were identified; no reference was made to either civil society or development NGOs. The trade and finance experts met on the sides, as did the business leaders. Finance, Trade and Science/Technology Ministers and officials are slated to meet as well. Once again, development NGOs and civil society (including trade unions and social movements)may have to push for creating a space for their collective voices in this ‘new’ version of ‘rich man’s club’.

3. During the month, the Finance Minister of India presented his budget to parliament. As typically happens, media approaches NGOs for their comments in ‘bites’, sound or print. Media questions to civil society are only focused on budgetary allocations and policies in social sectors and anti-poverty programmes—-MNREGA, SSA, NRHM, etc. The development NGOs are never asked about the proposals related to banking, infrastructure, corporate taxation or concessions, etc. It is assumed that NGOs don’t know, or don’t care, about such ‘hardware’ issues. And, development NGOs oblige by focusing their ‘bites’ on ‘software’ issues only. Come to think of it, it is the ‘hardware’ policies of the government that negatively affect the poor and marginalized (like hike in oil prices) far more than the so-called positive impacts of ‘software’ policies?

4. It is rather fashionable these days that multi-lateral international institution have resurrected the credo for ‘south-south cooperation’. Yet, in the middle of last month, in New Delhi, two contrasting events took place. In one, Indian civil society explored ways in which it can take initiatives towards south-south cooperation around deepening democratic governance in the national and regional levels. In another, the head of a New York based UN agency (which proclaims its global and national partnerships with civil society) visited Delhi, and left without having any interaction with civil society. It raises questions about the seriousness of such proclamations, especially in the context of the growing relevance of India, andthe strong presence of Indian civil society, in matters related to south-south cooperation?

5. In a recent conference on Indian diaspora philanthropy in University of Iowa, it became clear that patterns of giving back to Indiafocused largely on providing support to a physically visible project that establishes the identity of the philanthropists’families. The most common project was a school; next was a clinic. Giving continued to be largely through religious organisations set-up overseas. Proportionate to their populations, many more such organisations had roots in Sikhism and Hinduism, than Islam. Despite being the richest immigrant community in North America, Indian diaspora gave back to India much less in proportion. Support to advocacy and social mobilization efforts by local civil society in India to bring about democratic governance for all citizens didn’t figure in Indian diaspora’s philanthropic priorities. Surprise?

All the very best

Rajesh Tandon