Informal Groups And Their Role In Indian Polity

This article briefly takes you through the reasons behind the rise of informal groups in Indian democracy despite having political representatives in the decision making process. It takes you through the various reasons behind the discontent of various sections of society and how New Social Movements (NSM) marked an important phenomenon in Indian Democracy.

Aspirants would find this article very helpful while preparing for the IAS Exam.

Rise of Informal Groups

Democracy is largely understood as popular sovereignty where people have control over the decisions made by the State. Since it is not practically possible for the people in modern democratic societies to participate in the decision-making process of the State directly, they do so through representatives. This representation gets its institutional form in political parties and it is through political parties that the people wish to articulate and represent their demands. But when political parties become ineffective in representing the interests of the people, we see the emergence of Informal groups through different emergence of social movements and groups of the Civil Society.
The rise of the informal group as a New Social Movements (NSM) strategy in India marked an important phenomenon for the Indian democracy. The informal group deepened the very notion of democracy. India with its newly found independence and its establishment of the democratic structure moved ahead in its assertion of the concept of democracy with the emergence of new social movements.

Civil Society – A Brief Overview

Democracy no longer remained an empty concept of mainly elections and plebiscite and thereby legitimization of State power. The very emergence of these movements made it clear that democracy creates its own space and is not just a State entity. The rise of Dalits, OBCs, Adivasis, and women as new social forces enriched democracy by invoking the very concept of civil society.

Civil society has become the leitmotif of movements struggling to free themselves from unresponsive and often tyrannical post-colonial elites. If the first wave of liberation took place along with decolonization, the second wave comes up against those very elites who had taken over power after decolonization.

The upheaval of new, social movements raises their voices against the authoritative, oppressive and exploitative institutions, including the State and its notion of development and, thereby, reviews the fact that democracy needs to be looked at in its fundamental and value-based basic principles of liberty and equality. Chandhoke writes: outside the ambit of norms laid down by the state-ecology, gender, class in the resistance of those who refuse to let the state site its projects wherever it places, in the voice of those who reject corrupt elites in the political passions of those whose nerves are not numbed by consumer capitalism, in the letters to the newspapers, in oral communication. These are people who do not opt-out of civil society but who demand that the state deliver what it has promised in the Constitution and the law, who demand state accountability, who expand the sphere of rights to encompass those which have arisen out of the struggles of the people.

Informal Groups – Importance

The Informal groups have, therefore, made an important beginning in awakening the society against the injustices that were being dished out in the immediate post Independence period. But what needs to be seen in today’s context is the fact as to whether they were able to achieve what they were making their stand for. What have been the consequences of such movements? Have they been able to assert the very principles of democracy? Today, we see informal groups are also about class because of the very socio-economic deprivation that persists, thereby raising issues of rights, justice, and equality. Also, we find that these movements are now struggling for State power. Thus, NSMs are now not very different from social movements. What we now see is either an ‘NGOization of social movements, which are like active citizens’ group but which stick to the limits because of the involvement of large national and international funds, diverting from the real cause and end up becoming lobbies or politicization of various groups by various political parties for garnering votes for state power. Then, there are social movements, like the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and other women’s issues, which have ended in courts rather than active role by the State and the verdict of the courts have not been that fair either and, if there have been any issues that have come up in recent times, they have all been mere campaigns.

The present scenario finds a critical situation for the informal group and which in the words of Omvedt can be called as ‘the crisis of movement’. The informal group finds themselves in a completely different direction, somewhere in the politics of reservation, in the politics of power struggle, in the politics of the whole notion of development. Today, we find the atrocities against Dalits, Adivasis, and women are still persistent and social justice has lost its very essence. So, where do we see ourselves from here? We started with great hope when the NSMs were launched. However, all of it did not go in vain. NSMs did make an initiation in breaking down the barriers of caste, class, gender, and other such oppression. In the 1970s, the political parties failed to adequately represent the interests of the people within a state, which was entrusted with the responsibility of nation-building, economic growth, and social justice. What happened? Why did we arrive at such a crisis?

The emergence of New Social Movements – Discontent towards the State

When India became independent, it expressed its full faith in the State, its institution, and its policies. The State came up as a promising figure that would take care of its people. In the two decades following Independence, the Congress was considered the legitimate representative of the people by a majority; after all, it was associated with the freedom struggle. People, therefore, had high hopes that the party would deliver to all basic primary education, health services, generate jobs and incomes, remove poverty and inequality and protect the needy, poor, and vulnerable. But all these hopes were dashed as the Congress party not only failed to fulfill its promises but also became authoritative and imposed an internal emergency in 1975. The period was, therefore, marked by agitation against prevailing corruption, food scarcity, unemployment, and the imposition of internal emergency by the Union government. Discontent spread to major parts of the country by the late 1960s onwards.

This very crisis of representation that resulted from the failure of political parties to perform its duties properly led to the emergence of, in the words of Rajni Kothari and D. L. Sheth, ‘non-party formations’. There was growing frustration among people who found that their most basic demands as citizens of this country were not being met. As a result, many new groups emerged as a ‘new social force’ and launched agitations against the State to press for their demands and rights, leading to the emergence of ‘new social movements’ (NSMs) in India. The prominent movements that came up during this time included the civil liberties movement, Dalit movement, Adivasi movement, women’s movement, and environment movement. These movements became the thrust of Gail Omvedt’s work, Reinventing Revolution.

 

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