Vol-CIII : December 1, 2012

Dear Colleagues

Here is a round of for your perusal:

1. In a recent discussion with a member of UN High Level Panel for post 2015 in New Delhi, several speakers focused on the criticality of putting human rights at the centre of the future commitments. Another voice focused on making post-2015 UN commitments globally applicable to all member states, and not just the so-called developing countries alone. This will ensure that poverty, inequality and unemployment issues of Europe and North America (as evidenced in recent public protests and ‘occupy’ movements) are as much a part of global commitment as toilets and water taps in Africa and Asia. Another perspective added to this conversation was to focus on democratic governance of democracies, since governance failures at national and sub-national levels, just as at global levels, were at the heart of the causes for non-delivery of basic services and fundamental rights of all citizens. These voices and issues were dismissed by the member of the High Level Panel as not adequately ‘quantifiable’ or unlikely to be accepted by member governments. Once again, a massive exercise of defining post-2015 scenario as a waste!

2. In this era of declining Official Development Assistance(ODA), a conversation around the role of civil society in countries of Europe and north America is as important as it is in the southern hemisphere. Many NGOs in Europe and North America have historically emerged to channelise their government’s development assistance to the developing countries. As a consequence, these NGOs have been facing great pressure around declining ODA. A symposium on civil society in the Netherlands brought out this contradiction to the fore. Most participants felt that retooling their organisations to this new reality may well be difficult. One such organization has decided to close shop, a very bold and unorthodox decision indeed! Sometimes, new contexts require such new ways of functioning that retooling an existing instrument may not be possible; in such cases, closing shop and declaring victory may well be the best response?

3. In this era of unbridled corruption at high places, conversations about ethical practice may be somewhat meaningless. Yet, in a conference on higher education in India, the emphasis on ethics seemed to dominate the discourse. Teaching of ethics has become fashionable in business schools around the world today; yet, there is no evidence that ethical practices in business have been on the rise. Therefore, role of higher education in teaching ethics has questionable value, as most cases of publicly disclosed unethical behavior entangle highly educated folks. Hence, the learning of ethics is not merely an agenda of higher education; it has to be a way of life, learnt through family, community and school. Preaching about ethics is far less impactful than practice of ethical conduct. Do institutions of education—including higher education—demonstrate ethical practices in teacher behaviours, student recruitment and assessment and governance of these institutions?

4. The recent Google report on digital censorship suggests that India ranks second in the world on frequency of censorship. The present political environment in the country is so intolerant of dissent and criticism that it reminds many of their struggles during the emergency of mid 1970s. Facebook comments by two girls in Mumbai result in their arrest; a cartoonist is made to ‘deface’ his art, and livelihood; films from Bollywood regularly get ‘censored’ by their directors, and sometimes by ‘hooligans’ who destroy cinemas and shops. If ‘might is indeed right’, then we have lost the essence of democracy in this country. Senior political leaders use abusive language to castigate constitutional bodies; journalists are beaten up, and even killed for exposing business-politics nexus. The largest democracy in the world is unable to cope with the burden of democracy—decency, civility, tolerance do not have much place in modern India! The protection of democracy requires assertion by ordinary citizens, so that ordinariness of our political leaders (and their kith and kin) can be established and perpetuated as per our constitution.

5. The re-election of Barack Obama as President of USA brought somewhat heartening cheers to many. The campaign had thrown up serious questions about financing issues where several rich Americans spent millions to support Republican candidate. Going by some media accounts, more than $6bn was spent in presidential campaign. What does it mean for the future of electoral democracy in America (and the rest of the world)? There was a time when educational criteria were used to allow (or debar) voters; literacy drives in USA supported voter enrolments and awareness. Now, financial status seems to be the basis for contesting elections. Does it mean that ‘democracy in future would be by a few rich people, for some important people, and (only in the name) of all the people’?

Thanking you

Rajesh Tandon