On Social Development: Part 2

The Politics of Social Development

We can put it in another way: How does a suppressed society take up these initiatives? Alternatively, how do we plan and grow when the authority is as indifferent as a wild animal that had just finished its meal?

Several financial and not-for-profit organisations, particularly those based in the West, are delving on the issues of social development from the perspectives of ‘problem-driven governance and political economy’, ‘sustainable livelihood framework in situations of conflict’, ‘interaction of political and economic processes’, ‘comprehensive administration reforms’, ‘coherence between political and humanitarian responses’, and so on.

Here, we are concerned with a journalistic approach from a viewpoint of native politics or from that of a suppressed society. In a state like Manipur—a frontier province where gun rules the roost but nevertheless belongs to India, the biggest democracy of the world—any development study would take its foundation in the existing political conflict between the government and the non-state actors, who have been fighting for a range of issues from sovereignty to demands for separate districts and homelands.

Precisely, how do we put the people at the centre of development? The suggestions are varied and contradictory to each other but one element that has been generally accepted is the role of civil society. According to a definition by the World Health Organisation:

Civil society is seen as a social sphere separate from both the state and the market. The increasingly accepted understanding of the term ‘civil society’ organisations (CSOs) is that of non-state, not-for-profit, voluntary organisations formed by people in that social sphere. (Source: WHO http://www.who.int/en/)

Its importance is based on the belief that it knows the local conditions well. In a place like Manipur where the social attitudes are characterised by schisms, disagreements and lack of communication, the management is difficult but it is not impossible. As our hallmark quality, the CSOs are wasting their energies in reactionary antics; yet again, it is not impossible to break the social attitudes, howsoever hardened those are.

Social development is a means, not an end and there is no fixed rule to make it happen. For the financial and not-for-profit organisations, it is all about interventions, which are usually short term and a sort of quick-fix, partial solution—to the extent of getting brickbats from critics for imposing the Western belief and value systems upon the recipients. Besides, last year, the government of India has imposed a blanket ban on numerous American- and European-based non-profit organisations on the ground that they are working against national security and governmental development plans. 

Development is possible only when there are constant structural changes in a superstructure. This has further legitimised the destruction of the existing establishment but reasonably so, because if not for this demolition, structural change is inevitably hard and any process of reform is self-defeating. Postdevelopment theorists have as well redefined the development paradigms that have been developed over five decades but theirs is also not the ultimate solution.  

This takes us to the issue of social change for development. Many people in the West believe that social change happens gradually as a type of evolution. Their argument is valid only in their countries because of their realities; though it has been criticised from Marxist school of thought that advocates radical social change in ‘sudden, rapid’ manners.

The idea of evolution also does not hold in regions where there have been imposing ancient civilisations, of which some are now regaining their powers while others have been submerged in the sands of time. In another word, progress is not always unilateral but rather cyclical at times. These factors justify the role of social revolutions to achieve social change and development.     

Revolutions are flooded with Orwellian and Kafkaesque overtones. A note by Franz Kafka explains it succinctly: ‘Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy’. However, the utter hopelessness and farcical lived experiences have necessitated the foundation of a new establishment. Que sera, sera.

One of the rallying cry for revolution is the abolition of capitalism. But in our case, it is entirely different. We survive on the faulty ground of socialism albeit this does not imply supporting capitalism. For that matter, the Burmese Way to Socialism and the decline of Soviet Union one thousand years ago prove sufficiently that the ideals of today’s revolution—based on socialism and military intervention—are riddled with holes, leave alone the need for deliberation on a native ideology.

Alternatively, we need a literal revolutionary approach to move forward. This means the defiance of the Merger Agreement as well as the annihilation of the existing society.

We can live in a world of change in accordance with our aspirations. Effortlessly, we can lay firm a foundation by creating a responsible civil society, adjusting the coherent existence of ideas and resources while developing constructive social attitudes. To quote an American statesman, every generation needs a new revolution.

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