Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Varshney Op-Ed Plots the Limits of Civil Society

June 16, 2011

Where is the line drawn between civil society and political society? Institute Faculty Fellow Ashutosh Varshney draws it clearly at the point of lawmaking, in an op-ed in the Indian Express.

His arguments could apply globally, but he focuses on India in his op-ed.
“At the heart of the current political impasse in Delhi lies a paradox. Without the awful decline in the legitimacy of elected politicians, brought about by corruption, civil society would not have become so powerful. But, equally, whatever the faults of India’s elected politicians, a democratic system cannot give so much power to civil society without hurting itself.

“Let civil society agitate and even persuade the electorate to throw out a government that is corrupt. But lawmaking is strictly a function of the elected wings of the polity. If we undermine that, we attack the basic principles of a democratic political system. A movement sponsored by civil society is democratic; lawmaking by civil society is not.”

Varshney reiterated his point about civil society on a television program, India Today.