The role of civil society in mobilizing popular grievances has significantly diminished since the liberalization. Once considered an anti-thesis to the state and corporate interests, and an equal opportunity space for the oppositional discourses, the civil society has also gone through the major restructuring in the last two decades. This reimagining has been the part of the global restructuring process where concerns of efficiency, performance, positive outcomes, predictability and control have increasingly become the hallmarks of the success and achievement. The NGOisation of the development work in the post-liberalization era and the acquiesce of the civil society organizations to the conditions put up by neoliberal institutions such as IMF, World Bank, and international donor agencies have created a situation where the space for resistance has shrunk quite significantly. Unsurprisingly, the major resistances to the state and the corporate interests in last few years have emerged from the space of political society (Chatterjee, 2004:74).
The deepening of democratic politics or what Yogendra Yadav terms the democratization of politics in the post-Mandal era, too has redefined the relationship between the civil society and the democracy. The new form of subaltern politics, which has emerged across India, has essentialized the identity and indigenous leadership, leaving the little space for the civil society maneuvering. At the same time, the alignment of civil society with the global discourse of development and poverty has effectively de-territorialized them and has turned them into the extensions of neoliberal governmentality. The civil society organizations’ mimicking of the goals and objectives set by UN agencies and international organizations itself is not bad, but the non-critical adherence of global discourse and the avoidance of local roots of a particular social issue glosses over the pre-existing fault-lines and the contested realities. For instance, the civil society engagement with the government and the corporate organizations in the skill-development of the tribal youth ignores the local histories of violence against them, de-legitimizes their century-long struggle for equity and parity in political and economic life and presents the cheap employment as the panacea for their emancipation.
Now one may ask the question that why should one be concerned about the existence a well-functioning civil society in a democratic polity? Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist and theorist, provides a better explanation. The state and its machinery are now increasingly ruling over us not through the repressive means, but through ideological means, where we give the consent for the oppression. To counter the hegemony of state and its allies, and to save the individual freedom, we require a counter-hegemonic discourse, and that has to emerge from a well-meaning civil society.
Sharma, A., & Gupta, A. (Eds.). (2009). The anthropology of the state: a reader. John Wiley & Sons.
Chatterjee, P. (2011). Lineages of political society: Studies in postcolonial democracy. Columbia University Press.
Yadav, Y. (1996). Reconfiguration in Indian politics: State assembly elections, 1993–95. Economic and Political Weekly, 95–104.