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Center for Civil Society




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The Economic Times
                             Sunday 17 January, 1999

 GATHER AROUND,
 CIVIL SOCIETY
 At home/Sauvik Chakraverti


 WITH A state controlled economic system, you create a vast  political
society. You weaken civil society. What do these  terms mean?

 Political society comprises politicians, bureaucrats and  political
parties -the rulers. Civil society comprises the rest  -the ruled. The
armed forces are political society although
 they are not politicised; but retired defence personnel should  be
considered members of civil society. The first question is:  What are
the symptoms of the overstretching of political
 society?

 For one, the `politicisation of economic life'. Here, we have  to use
political or bureaucratic `connections' in order to get  something as
trivial as a ticket on the Rajdhani to Bangalore
 to something really big like the license to operate an airline.
Neither comes easy. This has consequences, especially in  determining
the nature and character of our elite.

 In a free market, people succeed because of hard work and
entrepreneurial flair. This enforces morality. On of the most  important
reinforcers of morality in the free market is
 reputation, and it is highly prized. When obtained through  hard work,
it is a valued commodity, rarely frittered away.  However, where there
is state control, people make money
 through connections, influence and bribery - and morality  declines.
Instead of breeding gentlemen, we breed a perverse  elite whose success
is admired by ordinary folk in much the
 same manner that they admire the dexterity of a pickpocket.  This has
certain consequences, especially on the young.

 The children of such elites do not grow up valuing anything  higher
than connections. They do not value knowledge; they  do not value
integrity; they do not value character. They only
 value connections, and what one can do by exploiting  connections.
These are the children of politicians,  bureaucrats, policemen and the
industrialists and  businessmen who are part of the politicised economic
system  - a perverse elite.

 These are the kids who misbehave all over the place: they  drive
recklessly drunk killing people; they brawl at clubs and  discos; they
indulge in empty headed vulgar ostentation. This
 is only on account of politicisation. In a free market,  progressive
Bengali society in those days produced  bhadraloks. Where are the
bhadraloks today? Even Bengali  society has deteriorated into lumpen
statists. It must be noted  that good manners are the core of all
morality. Lucknow was  famous for good manners. Our civilisation was not
always a
 rude and unmannered one; it has become so today. We must  see why and
take corrective action.

 The Centre for Civil Society is now just about a year old and  its
chapters are opening up all over the country. The idea is a  `mortar'
movement by indulging in `knowledge-based politics
 without ties to party or state'. The socialist state is easy to
disprove. Indeed, it is so easy to disprove that, at one of its
dialogues, we invited an NCERT professor of economics to
 a respected school and had a free-marketeer disprove the  contents of
the text-books being issued to the schools. The  Centre has now been
given a role in training the press,
 especially the financial press, in the basics of free market
economics. This knowledge based activism must be extended  to every town
in the STD codebook so that retired people,
 school principals, the press and the social elite who are not  part of
political society are made aware of the fallacies of  socialism. Of
course, this is not a mass movement. It is just a
 gathering together of an elite against socialism in much the same
manner that the Congress operated before Gandhi came.

 Many social groups have become actively interested in the  knowledge
that the Centre for Civil Society is promoting.  College students are
especially interested, as they are now
 asking questions about the `facts' and `theories' being taught  to them
in Economics and Political Science. Societies like  the Association of
Youth for a Better India have become
 interested in the Centre's activities and have eagerly  participated in
its seminars. There has also been a banding  together of old liberals
left over from the Swatantra Party of  Minoo Masani, so old and young
are getting together to form  the mortar movement of civil society.

 There is a purpose to all this of course. After the mortar movement has
accomplished its purpose, the idea is to start a `hammer' movement to
demolish political society and cut it
 severely down to size. We expect this process to take another two or
three years at the most. But a lot of work remains to be done.

 For one, there is a need to get into the knowledge based institutions
of the state and involve them actively in the understanding of the
disproofs of socialism. The state operates various institutions which
supposedly spread knowledge -from the National Academy of Administration
to the National Defence College. In all these institutions, recruits to
the state's services get `knowledge' which is not the real thing. These
people need to be told that there is
 another way forward.

 There is also need to get into the training sessions for
parliamentarians. The Centre for Civil Society, in association with the
Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, took out an `Agenda of Change' for Indian
parliamentarians last year. Sonia Gandhi wrote the foreword for the
volume. This must
 be taken a few steps further and the Centre should become active in the
training of parliamentarians in Economics and Political Science.

 Those who wish to become active with the Centre should write to B-12,
Kailash Colony, New Delhi. The use of knowledge as a basis for political
mobilisation is entirely legitimate. Politics, after all, are what
Bernard Crick called `the public actions of free people'.
Knowledge-based politics is precisely that. It is qualitatively
different from joining a centralised hierarchical party and following
the orders of the `leader'. It is the kind of politics this country
desperately needs if it is to get good government. The fact is that our
reasoning has been bad -hence this socialism -so the rigorous
application of reason is the only way out.

 It should not be forgotten that it was civil society that brought down
socialism in much of eastern Europe. Vaclav Havel's party was called
Civic Forum. The Centre for Civil Society
 is not a party, but if a liberal party were to form it would definitely
look into the prospects of an alignment. There is a possibility of a
liberal party emerging from the ashes of the
 Swatantra Party in the near future. So there is hope. There is a way
forward, and there is a method of getting civic forces together. Why
don't we all, as the unsung copywriter put it,
 `just do it'?






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