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Neera Chandhoke

Can Civil Society Reorder Priorities in India?

The Indian state has responded to demands made by civil society campaigns that are sometimes supported and sometimes initiated by the Supreme Court. But we are definitely not in the midst of a social revolution. This, in large measure, is due to the nature of civil society interventions.

Modi's Gujarat and Its Little Illusions

On the assumption that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is going to be re-elected in this month's assembly election, he is being touted by many in the Bharatiya Janata Party as the party's prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Gujarat is assumed to have benefi ted from Modi's administrative acumen and its economic performance is much praised. However, on a number of social and human development indicators, the performance of Gujarat is abysmal, especially where tribals, children, women and minorities are concerned. Civil society in the state also seems to be struck by a kind of paralysis in the face of state violence against the minorities. What then does such "growth" mean?

Whatever Has Happened to Civil Society?

Compared to the grand revolutionary imaginaries of an earlier era, the demands of civil society campaigns in India today are practically tame, limited as they are by the boundaries of what is politically permissible and feasible. They do not demand ruptures in the system, all that they urge is that social issues be regarded as of some import and something be done about them. Perhaps campaigns for the effi cient delivery of social goods belong to a post-ideological era: an era where the State is no longer seen as the object of political contestation, but as a provider of social goods. And the citizen is seen as the consumer of agendas formed elsewhere, not as the maker of his or her own history.

Why People Should Not Be Poor

Though much intellectual energy has been expended on the "poverty problem" in India, the debate simply does not take into account the highly unequal social context in which poverty is produced and reproduced. Can we reflect on the right not to be poor without taking on these background inequalities? Arguably, the right not to be poor is best articulated as a subset of the generic right to equality. The concept of equality is, however, not self-explanatory. In many circles, redistributive justice has replaced equality. It is therefore time to ask the question - equality for what? Is equality only about the provision of minimal resources, or is it about enabling a sense of self-worth so that people can participate in the multiple transactions of society with a degree of confidence? Unless we are careful about the way we approach the poverty debate, we will land up not with equality, but with "sufficientarianism".

Recontextualising Liberalism

Debating Difference: Group Rights and Liberal Democracy in India by Rochana Bajpai (Ne

Our Latest Democratic Predicament

It is time holders of state power understand that mobilisation in civil society against, or for policies, is an integral part of democratic politics, particularly when representatives have betrayed us time and again. The State enacts, implements, and adjudicates policies in our name, and governs in our name. We therefore have the right to ask why we should accept unjust and arbitrary policies, and above all corruption. But this does not mean that we uncritically accept civil society initiatives as wholly good and entirely democratic; these initiatives should also be subjected to public scrutiny and engaged with.

When Is Secession Justified? The Context of Kashmir

Given the turmoil in Kashmir today, a number of right-thinking people have come to defend the right of the people of Kashmir to a state of their own; or more simply that the Kashmiri people possess the right of secession via the right of self-determination. But if self-determination has proved to be the veritable will-o'-the-wisp in recent history - since it begs the question of which entity possesses this right, and by virtue of what do the people of a region possess this right - secession is one of the most difficult of concepts that political theorists have had to take on board after the "ethnic explosion" that shook the world at the turn of the 1990s. Do people have the right to establish their own state quite in the same manner as they have the right to elect their own government? How do we justify secession? What are the moral considerations that we need to weigh the right of secession against? This essay seeks to negotiate these very questions in the context of Kashmir.

Civil Society in Conflict Cities

A vibrant civil society is one of the essential preconditions of democracy, but it can fulfil its mandate only when the preconditions for its existence have been met. This demands shared engagement in political struggle and social interaction in shared neighbourhoods. This paper seeks explanations for the failure of civil society in Ahmedabad, which has experienced many riots in the past, to raise a collective voice of protest against deliberate acts of violence by the State, and also in battling undemocratic groups within its own sphere. A historical exploration of the segmentation of residential spaces in the city and its subsequent intensification has led to a weakening of the scope of civil society engagement. However, the translation of prejudice, discrimination and communal sentiments into brutal acts of violence demanded a trigger - provided by the Sangh parivar, which came to command state politics since the mid-1990s, and has rendered the civil society helpless.

Putting Civil Society in Its Place

The civil society argument about representing people and their needs has now been around for about 25 years. The problems of the world remain as intractable, even as the numbers of agents who seek to negotiate the ills of the human condition have expanded exponentially. In popular imagination, it is still the State that seems to occupy a central position. And it is clear that there are certain problems that only the State can resolve, and should be resolving. Is it time that we begin to reconsider the role of civil society? Is it time to once again put civil society in its place?

Quest for Justice: The Gandhian Perspective

Dialogue appears particularly appropriate for plural societies, which are marked by a variety of perspectives, beliefs, commitments and values. But plural societies tend to be stamped by deep disagreements on the basic norms that should govern the polity. For this reason alone, these societies can prove deeply divided and fractious. How do defenders of dialogue establish the preconditions for dialogue among participants? How do agents who wish to put forth a particular point of view establish their credibility: that their reflection and their proposed courses of action are in the public interest, and not in the pursuit of some selfish private gain? How can communication among agents be enabled at all insofar as these agents can be persuaded to modify or moderate their original position in and through the process of dialogue? Perhaps the Gandhian philosophy of satyagraha provides us with some answers to these vexing questions.