Event ReportsPublished on Nov 26, 2013
Observer Research Foundation and Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung recently organised the Asian-European Policy Dialogue 2013. The theme of the dialogue was local level politics, related policy areas and the role of the state.
Asian-European Policy Dialogue 2013
Observer Research Foundation and Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung organised the Asian-European Policy Dialogue 2013 on November 26 and November 27, 2013. The theme of the dialogue was local level politics, related policy areas and the role of the state. The dialogue was divided into five sessions revolving around different aspects of local governance, new wave of democracy in Asia and the impact of new social media on democracy. This report captures some of the key highlights that emanated during the course of the two-day conference. New wave of democracy in Asia The first session focussed upon how democracy is being shaped particularly from below and the challenges resulting from this pressure. The speakers for this session were Dr. Jörg Schultz, Dr. Rohit Kumar Nepali and Professor Zoya Hasan. New democratic patterns West Asia today is a theatre for profound changes in the structure of regimes and offers learning experience in the implementation of democracy. The new constitution in Egypt is characterised by strong Islamic elements, curbing of women’s rights and the lack of constitutional protection for minorities. The Muslim Brotherhood has not lived up to the image of social providers, using violence as means of implementation and encouraging foreign investments. For the implementation of democracy it is critical to have people participation by voicing of opinions even if they are contradictory to government policies and the decisions of the rulers. There is also a need for increasing the representation of women. Nevertheless, reasons for optimism include changes in the foreign policy of Iran and the broad democratic movement in Turkey, which has international support. The situation remained relatively unchanged during the revolutionary events vis-a-vis Israel - Palestine relations. The key lesson that emerges from West Asia is that "people have learned that no regime is forever, resistance can work and change in revolution is possible". Indigenisation of democracy in South Asia A major threat to democracies is the poor governance process, massive prevalence of corruption and the lack of implementation of policies. A shared colonial history, large population, poverty, corruption and weak governance were common characteristics of all South Asian democracies. The continuation of strong feudal system and dynastic politics is considered as a failure of democracy. Primordial values and identities, extremism and nascent democratic institutions still remain a challenge. However, a new wave of democracy is evident with greater democratisation of the states, widespread movements against corruption leading to disqualification of leaders and greater representation of women in the political institutions. The symptoms of change ought not to be immediately rejoiced as a new wave of democracy, but nevertheless, the region is moving in a direction suitable to its socio-cultural context and aspirations of the people. Democracy from below: the Indian experience India’s democratic politics after liberalisation has been dominated by cultural identities: caste, religion and ethnicity. Democracy and development are functionally related but not asymmetric. Indian democracy is a success as it is has been inclusive in accommodating diversity. However politics in India benefited the elites and the middle class and structural changes failed to incorporate the needs of the lower classes. The political class in India comes mainly from the affluent, the educated and the socially powerful sections of the society. The close connection between money and politics is a matter of serious concern. Many politicians are now from business groups and many of them take to business through politics. The intersection between the distortion in party processes and party structures, family politics and the growing importance of special economic interests are the three factors that have undermined the very principle of democratic representation and arguably has resulted in a major transformation in power structures in recent years. Finally it needs to be recognized that in India there is a veritable contradiction between the democratisation of political power and the democratic upsurge. Democracy at the grassroots Global trends reveal increasing urbanisation, with several countries already more than 75% urbanised. This fundamental shift has had significant implications on the emphasis placed on urban governance, particularly Local Urban Bodies. Combined with developing technology, public space has taken on a virtual character, and this has had an effect on democracy and social movements within cities. The urban reactions to the financial crisis, including the Occupy movement, are examples of this. This session dwelt upon experiences that indicate the direction democracy is likely to take in urban spaces. The speakers for the session were Dr. Korel Goymen, Dr. Katrin Lompscher and Dr. Rumi Aijaz. Select participatory mechanisms in Turkey The political and institutional culture is slow to change in Turkey, as are bureaucratic politics. The participant culture in Turkey is still developing - from being mainly symbolic to reflecting true integration. In its 90 years of existence, the Turkish republic has witnessed many transformations which have impacted the participatory scene. These transformations include a shift towards urbanisation - from a society that was only 11% urban to one that is almost 80% urban. Another important transformation was the transition from a single, authoritarian party to a multi-party system. In 1999 a devastating earthquake struck Turkey, and the government was criticised for its inadequate response. Civil society actors, on the other hand, responded well. The increased numbers of NGOs and civil society organisations led to an increase in volunteerism as a solution to tackle urban problems. Local city councils have formed around assemblies - for women, the handicapped, the youth and more. This form of direct representation has allowed community interests to be addressed, and specific strategies to be formed. There has been a move towards more involved democracy, like the slum resettlement project in Ankara in the mid 1990s which allowed affected residents to be involved in decision making, which was a great success. There is also the new constitution writing process, which allows NGOs, think tanks and universities to prepare reports and have their say. Participation mechanisms - The Berlin example Germany today is a republican, democratic and social state that is characterised by strong social and legal systems. Effective local institutions in Berlin ensure direct democracy is enacted. An example of this is the ’citizen’s initiative’, which can be proposed by any resident of Berlin, regardless of nationality, and can be taken all the way to the House of Representatives. Every administrative decision taken can be reviewed, which ensures accountability. Economic and technological advances mean that projects which were deemed unfeasible in the 1990s are being constructed. Civic engagement is deemed worth the effort, even if projects do not always immediately materialise. There is a need for new forms of public participation - the existing forms are increasingly reaching their limits. This can be seen in the ever decreasing voter turnout at the local level, which shows dissatisfaction with the system rather than voter apathy. Democratising municipal governments: The Indian experience Despite the availability of many statistics, including on sanitation, housing and access to drinking water, the true nature of India’s problems at the local level is not clear. The infrastructure needs attention. The government has taken many steps to address inequalities and there have been significant achievements but real change is not yet visible. Steps have been taken since 1919 to strengthen the functioning of local governance, such as creating new municipal institutions. Within those institutions, some seats are reserved for certain groups to make them truly representative of the population, such as a certain quota of seats for women. Despite these steps, there can often be gridlocks in decision making because different levels of government are controlled by different political parties. Other issues that must be given due consideration are the factionalism of members, the absence of transparency in sharing information, delays and inefficiencies in taking minutes and unfair practices. If these are not dealt with, the purpose of creating representative institutions in the first place is undermined. Urban dynamics are fostering participation processes, but many challenges still remain. Democracy at the grassroots As urbanisation is on the rise globally, the importance of democracy in rural areas those ’left behind’ by urbanisation increases. Recognising the importance of democratic institutions at the grassroots, the Indian Constitution ensured that the state would take steps to organize village level governance bodies (Panchayati Raj Institutions) to function as units of self government. More than half a century later, India has 2,50,000 Panchayats and 32,00,000 representatives, including 12,00,000 women, all democratically elected. This is an unparalleled experience of democracy at the grassroots. This session focussed on how Democracy is being shaped in the rural contexts. The speakers for this session were Mr Saurabh Johri, Ms Yamini Aiyar and Dr. Solava Ibrahim. Third tier democracy: The Indian context The 73rd and & 74th Constitutional amendments in the early 90s were triggered by the realisation that centralised planning had not solved the basic problems of poverty, unemployment and inequality. The objective was to overcome insensitivity, casualness, lack of accountability and inertia in delivery processes, to counter the control and powers of the rural elite to corner opportunities of government schemes, and to speed up rate of flow of benefits to poor and socially disadvantaged. A reason for its relative success is even asset distribution, as land reforms and land redistribution reinforced greater participation in decision making. Education and skill development improved labour productivity, increased incomes and assisted Panchayats by providing technical expertise. The active participation of women has led to a change in expenditure patterns. Efficient information exchange systems and support from Tier 1 and Tier 2 governments, like the people’s plan in Kerala which had provisions for untied funds at block level, also contribute. A few illustrations of successful grassroots-led developments include the People’s Planning Campaign and the Green Kerala Express in Kerala. The former focussed on detailed planning with volunteers, villagers and experts as well as allocation of 33% of the state’s planned budget to Panchayats. The latter focussed on voluntary competition amongst Panchayats and information dissemination through commercials. In certain districts of Madhya Pradesh the focus has been on traditional methods in development and voluntary community service. In Maharashtra there have been cases of effective revenue mobilization through a simple area based tax system at the Panchayat level. Consequently property tax revenue has grown by almost threefold in three years. Understanding the effects of social audits Social Audits empower people to directly scrutinize government documents and engage, question and confront the state in the planning and implementation of social welfare schemes of the government. Andhra Pradesh is the only state to have institutionalized social audits. Social audits have raised awareness and increased contact of the people with the state. People participate in the meetings and lodge complaints but it is the people associated with the state who voice their grievances. In the Gram Sabhas and Jansunwais, fewer people tend to speak out. All local functionaries turn up but there is limited participation from politicians. The roadblocks faced by the state include lack of co-ordination amongst different government departments, social auditors lacking technical expertise and an inability to follow-up on the complaints. The state has recently introduced grievance redressal cells, a district ombudsman and streamlined payments through smartcards. The public nature of the audit has forced the state to act, for example complaints from wage-seekers regarding non-payment of their wages. Social audits have led to a shift from petty corruption towards bigger ticket corruption, consequently deepening the ’corruption network’. This is partly due to the lack of awareness about ’worksite monitoring’. The resources of the state need to be augmented to increase the capacity of state response in strengthening local accountability. The 3 C-Model of grassroots-led development For democracy to promote individual as well as collective freedoms at the grassroots, existing forms of collective agency should be strengthened and local institutional structures reformed. The ’capability approach’ needs to be adopted since it emphasises democratic processes, public deliberation, social inclusion, the role of human agency and focuses on the process of achieving freedom through different agencies. Elected Local Councils enhance good governance and decentralisation due to accessibility and proximity of local institutions, rich local knowledge and efficient targeting of marginalised and vulnerable groups. The developmental role of elected Local Councils has been impaired by limited delegated authority, ambiguous legal responsibilities and lack of financial independence. Collective Agency has promoted democracy through local leadership and the support of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The NGO supported model has been successful in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by various communal initiatives and institutionalising self help through young community leaders. Through communal self help various educational, productive and welfare projects have been established. This has been possible through the three fold approach of conscientization, conciliation and collaboration. It involves raising public awareness by imparting free education to everyone, youth participation, reconciling individual and communal goals through pursuing ’the good’, job creation, housing opportunities, establishing supporting services (e.g. women’s advocacy groups and training new generation of female leaders) and working directly with the state and the local government to create sustainable development outcomes. Contemporary challenges - Is federalism the answer? India’s Constitution had conceived a unitary model of governance albeit with certain federal features. As the democratic set up has evolved, the distribution of powers and responsibilities between the states and the centre has become a robustly contested space. Recent movements like the Tea Party movement in the United States show that the state/centre struggle which had once resulted in a civil war, continue to be relevant. The European Union provides a model of federalism in Europe, but the struggle to balance economies of varying strengths has laid bare flaws in the system. The fourth session focused on federalism and its significance in an increased role of the federal units of a nation state in international politics and foreign policy formulation. The key speakers for this session were Professor Balveer Arora, Mr. Pradeep Peiris and Mr. Ashok Kumar Singh. Asymmetrical federalism: the Indian experience What model of federalism would be best-suited for the Indian nation state? Federalism has historical significance - in the context of India’s break from its colonial fetters, and its core importance to the fundamental principle of democracy that India so cherishes. Indian federalism is the extension of the concept of ’swaraj’ or self-rule. India has adopted the model of "asymmetrical federalism" which is necessary for justice given the highly diverse population of India wherein the inequality of the states and their circumstances has to be factored in. The focus is on district-level growth with a special focus on empowering local governments. In this regard, the ’lateral synergy route’ is important. The Panchayati Raj system is faltering because the Centre is not forthcoming in sharing its powers and therefore what is important now is the involvement of civil society, the development of telecommunication and recognition of the transformative potential of social media. These go hand in hand with sustaining and further improving the right to information which has heralded in an era of greater transparency and awareness. Space for federalism: the Sri Lankan experience Sri Lanka’s encounter with federalism is a lesson. Federalism failed as ’a process’ because both the agents and structures for federalism were absent in Sri Lankan society. Federalism’s journey in Sri Lanka has been through three eras. The federal discourse from 1927-1980 focused on addressing the grievances of regional/ ethnic groups and became an avenue for the Tamil elites as they felt that were being discriminated against under the pretext of the democratisation process. From 1987-2006, the discourse was aimed at addressing the threat of secession, and in post war Sri Lanka, from 2009 till date, it has aimed at addressing the concerns of the majority. In Sri Lanka, via the 13th amendment, a system of province-based territorial devolution was adopted but there has been no substantial devolution of power. The basic problem was that federalism was projected as a solution to all ethnic problems and therefore became a fairly elitist project; the demand for federalism by the minority Tamil community is perceived by the majority Sinhala community as being a harbinger of secession. Increased pressure from the international community via the two UNHCR resolutions and promises to implement the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee recommendations are likely to act as catalysts for a more federal structure in Sri Lanka. The role of states in foreign policy In the evolution of the Indian state after independence, there was discord between development and population growth, which led to regional disparities. Compare Bihar and Maharashtra - both have roughly the same population, but Bihar has 1/5th the resources that Maharashtra has. The regional inequities led to unhappiness on part of the citizens of these states, whose aspirations were used for accumulation of greater political clout, leading to inter-state clashes such as those in the form of water-sharing disputes or those regarding electricity grids. This problem has aggravated in light of power sharing between the Centre and the states, wherein welfare schemes designed to address the needs of the poor are rendered ineffective due to the tussle between the Centre supplying the resources, and the states administering the projects at the local level. These tensions and struggles often spill over to the realm of foreign policy. In the case of the Teesta water sharing agreement between India and Bangladesh, there was opposition by the state government, in this case West Bengal, despite the policy being proposed by the Centre. The tensions are greater in the context of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka where despite India’s long standing principle of non-interference into the matters of a sovereign state, the Centre has been pushed into intervening in policy matters concerning Sri-Lanka at the behest of the government in Tamil Nadu. New/social media and democracy Of late, there has been a proliferation of new communication technologies and social media platforms. Given the fact that most of these technologies are based upon mobile phones that are cheaply and widely available, most developing countries have experienced an explosive growth in social media participation. It is important to note that social media has both a demand dimension and a supply dimension. Thus, while new media and technologies are fundamentally altering the pace and patterns of social interaction (often in unpredictable and possibly disruptive ways), E-governance opportunities are enabling information and service delivery in hitherto unprecedented ways. It is critical that we attempt to understand the complexities of this phenomenon and how these are shaping Democracy. The speakers for the final session were Mr Nitin Pai, Mr M Asiuzzaman and Dr R Swaminathan. The politics of networked societies A seemingly small 5% of Indians use social media on a regular basis. When this number is combined with the 60% who use mobile phones, information has the potential to reach 60 million people. Social media has the effect of making society more networked. Previously, a leader, with several second and third-level leaders would be required to mobilise a group of people. Then all the authorities would have to do to counter the mobilisation would be to target the leaders. The example of the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt shows how this has changed. Technology allowed tweets and organisational messages to reach widely without any middlemen. These were too difficult to track and happened in real time, meaning the mobilisation could not be pre-empted. Hierarchically ordered states are facing technically networked societies, who want contextual sensitive decisions. This clash leads to a challenge of the state’s legitimacy, requiring solutions outside the state, bypassing the state, or against the state. New media, governance and new ICT law in Bangladesh The media in Bangladesh has experienced a lot of rapid growth in the last two decades. The expanded number of newspapers, television channels and websites is one manifestation of this growth. The media became the floor of the parliament during the emergency rule of 2007-8, as talk shows called the leading party, the opposition party and civil society together to debate. Following dissatisfaction with the sentences handed down by a war crimes tribunal, the Shahbag movement described as "Bangladesh’s Tahrir" moment began. It was started by 11 bloggers, who called for a human chain to be formed as a sign of protest, not for a political rally. Word spread quickly however, and the movement became wider in scope. This was an example of the power of the new media. The government has tried to embrace it and attract youth voters, promoting "Digital Bangladesh" - a libertarian approach to strengthening the relationship between the government and the people. However, they have also brought in the ICT (Amendment) Act 2013, which targets the new media. They cannot cope with an unfettered fourth estate and are seeking to control it. The politics of digitally mediated spaces: Scripted logic of inclusion and exclusion The internet as a site of articulation has certain material forces of production attached to it - servers, algorithms, codes etc leading to a tight linkage with telecommunication modes. The dependency of the internet on such systems is being challenged; technology like wireless and radio communications, virtual currency, graphic user interfaces and digital cartography are changing the way we interact with each other and with the internet. There are initiatives underway, notably at MIT in America, to give a physical form - immersive, emotive and malleable - to digital data. Social media is a form of socio-cultural articulation that has become a part of our identities, to the point that predictive software is being developed that can tell a person what they are going to do on a future date - for example, where they will have coffee on a given day next year. Notions of spatiality and territoriality are being redefined. We are increasingly living in ’digitally mediated spaces’ and technology is appropriating social space. (This report is prepared by Maneo Kayina, Anahita Mathai, Juhi Bansal and Samya Chatterjee, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)
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