Civil Society : Interrogating state

Dr. Karuna Thakur
The right of people to vote   and elect representatives is not the sole purpose of participatory democracy  ,which also requires the presence   of autonomous social groups   called -the civil society   to question the state and its actions. In the west, associational groups like cricket, soccer and neighborhood clubs and pubs played a transformative role in the growth of democracy by bringing people together in small groups to debate politics. Arguably, what makes civil society, so important is the fact that while a state can punish an earing citizen by using the law at its command, there is no such institution to check   the erring state when it  chooses to violate  or transgress the  law  . Therefore participatory democracy realizes its real essence only   when actions of the state are subject to constant questioning and scrutiny: a vibrant civil society in other words is the key to a vibrant democracy.
In this regard Jammu and Kashmir  faces a daunting task , particularly after  an   electoral verdict which   though spectacular in terms of  voter  turnout was fractured in nature  ,  and  brought polar  opposite partners  in a coalition government  . Whether   they uphold popular mandate and honor the call of democratic governance or succumb to ideological pressures remains a critical test for both.   But in a scenario   where  coalition partners   walk a tight rope  trying to maintain a precarious balance , the civil society  can intervene as the third  stake holder:   vigilant  and  assertive ,  raising   issues and questions   which   concern  the interests of the people   and at the same time   serve as   a   sort  of  social audit   to hold representatives   accountable  for the mandate  given  to them .     Surely societies are not uniform; they   have inherent differences and exist in   concentric circles  where interests of  one   section are different from  the other . But   consciousness at each level can prove truly   beneficial. Earnestly  , one could start  by asking simple questions like    : why Jammu city , a capital city and   the heart of  Jammu region   with  pilgrim tourism as its mainstay must   present a deplorable specter  of  shanty roads  , garbage  dumps  and   chaotic traffic at entry points ,  where  an airport  resembles a bus stand  and  a  bus stand   looks  no  better than  a   road side dhaba. One could also question   why   a transport yard and a ware house must   continue to operate from the busiest junctions of the city   to create traffic chaos.  Also , why  an imposing  state secretariate , vulnerable from security point of view  must safeguard its  safety by subjecting citizens to perpetual harassment and inconvenience  in  the form of   cordons and barricades in the heart of  a city  severely cramped  of   space.  One could also question a patriarchal state’s tendency not only to usurp public space at will but also the gender space –  a cause proclaimed to  be  topmost  on  its agenda.    A telling example of usurpation  of gender space by state is  the ladies park , adjoining  the secretariat  , which  is a refuge for ladies to walk , meditate  and exercise ; but at any given time   becomes  a parking zone for Government vehicles  with all the security paraphernalia . Prying eyes and intrusive presence of the personnel    cause utter discomfort but there are no voices to question them.
Take   the issue of state flag, which has been seriously   contested since the fifties. Interestingly, the debate has primarily centered on the efficacy of  dual flag rather than the content or the symbol of the flag itself.   Pertinently , in non democratic , authoritarian or totalitarian states , party symbols and state symbols can  amalgamate to constitute the national flag , but not in a democracy , where  national or state flags are representations  of  republican or popular ethos ,  and   symbolize values which  have universal  or humanistic appeal  ; they  are  holistic and inclusive in  character . In that sense state flag of Jammu and Kashmir explicitly carries the symbol of a plough   which is also the official party symbol of National Conference. It represents  the  labour and the peasantry  which was the ideological  plank of   party ‘s  struggle against the feudal rule  of then Maharaja of the state  and formed the  basis of  land reform program me  undertaken  later on.   Since it excludes other constituent sections of society in the state, it has an exclusive rather than an inclusive character.   Therefore appropriation of a party symbol and  its  particularistic  stream of thought to represent  the state  not only emasculates the party in question   but also goes against the basic tenets of democracy .  One can draw parallel between the Congress party flag ,which, on independence   was modified , replacing Gandhi’s spinning wheel with Ashoka’s wheel .  But there is a difference which can partially justify the use of Congress party flag  as national flag with adaptation .  It is the argument that the tricolor symbolizes universal values of humanity, peace and justice rather than  the interests  of any particular segment of the society. Even so , as a matter of principle , sanctity of   a  state   or national  flag is best maintained when they  are  not allowed to be  replicated ,   distorted or modified even remotely .  To that extent both the Congress and the National Conference can be said to have left an imprint of their hegemonic dispositions for perpetuity in the two flags –  national and state .   Beause once the tricolor was adopted as the national flag ,  any adaptation  or variation of the same in any form  should have been disallowed which was not done  . As a result,  Congress and other parties have continued to temper with  the basic structure of the national flag.   In  J&K   , once the plough had been adopted as the symbol  of  state flag,  retention of the same as  a party  symbol should  not have been  allowed . Apparently like all other  historical  narratives   and identities which are constructions of dominant elite of a society  , the identity  and character of state flag  bears  evidence   of –  if not   complicity at least the intent  of the ruling elite  of the times   to  keep their linkages alive in  the design of the flag itself . It is  now  time to  subject  it to  scrutiny and   to analyse whether  state  instruments  like flags  can be  used as symbols for  glorifying paricular legacy  of a party  or  representing  common  history  in a matter  of fact way.  By all accounts  the  fundamental  question  – whether the   symbol  of state flag  is neutral  in character   is  a subject  which demands serious  consideration.
At another level,  one can  even, question Article 370    which, like any other law of the land  is sacred but not  untouchable. No law in a welfare state is untouchable.  Even if   laws   have historical  roots,  their utility has  to be  assessed in terms of  the  extent, reach and the  context in which they exist  and treated accordingly:   by  retention,  modification  or rejection.  No laws  can  remain in existence for  ever  as needs and perceptions of  society  change over time.  And  relevance of  article 370  has to assessed in the  same spirit –  its context and reach  in present times. It has to be judged  from people’ s perspective : whether it is uniformly beneficial to all or only to some. Modern democracies are people’s democracies  and  pluralist democracy in particular  must be based on priciples  of equity, justice and good of all ;  any law which  is contested  is a sure case for  review   in the interests of larger good of society.
it is worthwhile to  remember that states  are known to  create false consciouness  by inventing issues and generating fears which hardly  exist  ; it is because  they have a vested interest in  retaining  control and dominance over society. Very often  states have also   betrayed societies of which they  claimed  to be the trustees : not only   because  they had  an inherent tendency to do so; but also because the civil society  therein lacked the countervailing power of assertion and interrrogation. Hence  a caveat  for civil society : do not trust the state entirely, treat it with due care , caution  and constant invigilation  for  best results.

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