Kaushiki Sanyal, Consultant at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, discusses the evolution of civil society and advocacy, and the role of liberalization in crafting a space in the public discourse for independent non-governmental agencies in the field of governance.
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I think what may have changed; in my view was the democratization of the space for the civil society. I think till, from whatever I have read about that era, about the way policies were formed around that era. It was a fairly close system, in the sense that it was completely confined to the bureaucracy. So the interesting part is that this was not the case in the early days of after independence in the 1950s, the Nehru Era mostly. Where Nehru was quite, at least contemporaries of Nehru and Nehru himself was open to taking the feedback and consult with experts specially economists and also other scientific experts. This culture changed quite a bit after his demise and it became kind of confined to the bureaucracy and they became very suspicious of any kind of outside information. One of the interesting anecdotes that I had read once was that around the, I think around 70s, late 70s, the Gujarat government had given some think tank in Gujarat assignment to find out the effect of prohibition. And their finding was that it wasn’t working. But the government did not want to accept it, so what they did was that they just did not publish that research. So those kinds of thing became common. The role of outside expertise became very marginalised. I think this started changing after liberalisation because it was very clear that the bureaucrats did not have the necessary expertise on many of the things that were coming up. Say, the telecom sector for example or any other private (thing), where we have to regulate private players which is the big change that happened after liberalisation that there were a whole slew of private players in different sectors and there had to be at least, there had to be some regulation and it’s not just to controlling them but regulating in a fair manner where they had level playing field with public as well as private. And in that they needed the expertise from outside and also I think a few years down the line with liberalisation, the middle class in India kind of burgeoned. The income levels rose quite a bit and which is why people also started getting interested in participating in governance and democracy rather than you know, just being recipients of goods and services from the government. They were interested in being equal partners in the process and also I think around that time there was also a change in even in the world, there was a change in perception of the role of government. So it kind of changed from just government to governance and this happened I think around late 80s.