Speach at the annual conference of WANGO, 2004
WANGOs Annual Conference 2004 is dedicated to the importance and role of Non-Government Organizations in shaping our civil society in years to come. It is a subject highly relevant to the processes of social, political and economic development all over the world.
WANGO has taken the lead in proposing the subject for a comprehensive and in depth study and analysis. We are confident that high intellectual debate likely to ensue in the course of the deliberations at the conference will, ultimately lead to the formulation of broad guiding principles for national and international NGOs to adopt and act upon in service to global society.
We cannot rest content with the textbook formula that democracy is the best form of government mankind has experienced. Human experience is not static but an evolutionary phenomenon. Trial and error is the watchword of this phenomenon.
In contemporary times, democracy as a form of political system has changed its contours. Is it not a fact that many a time theoretically accredited democrats have, in practice, turned into ruthless totalitarians while soldiers in olive green have staked their claim as ardent democrats after bundling out democratically elected governments. It has become easier for potentates to mislead the people.
Therefore if we want that democracy as a political instrument is not abused and democratic institutions are not sullied, we shall have to focus all attention on the masses of people with whom ultimate power rests. In other words it means bringing education and awareness to the people about their rights and duties. We need to alert the people against the imposters and pretenders.
The question is who is to educate the people and bring them awareness? Normally political parties are expected to do the job. But in a democracy political parties generally focus on selling their party agenda or the manifesto. In real sense the political party that gains a visible majority vote is returned to power. The question is whether a big chunk of society is to remain disengaged and deprived? It has never been made clear but the enigmatic axiom that the will of the majority must prevail. Once saddled in the seat of power, it turns up to be a government that governs but not guides. Then its gradual unpopularity is rationalized in “incumbency syndrome” concept. Ambitious and dominating ruling party, while sitting pretty in the seat of power, gets distanced from the real power center if not by its own choosing at lest by the force of circumstances.
In such a situation, the emergence of the third force is logical and rational. This third force, equidistant from the political parties and the ruling lot, has a very significant role to play. In technical language this third force is called the NGOs. Its locus standi speaks of its importance and relevance. It becomes a bridge between the governed and the governor.
As things appear at present, political systems, administrative dispensation, quality of governance, access to redress of grievance and violation of human rights, universalizing of economic gains and overall movement towards higher quality of life especially in the developing countries world over are the areas needing immediate attention. These become the primary concern of genuine NGOs. That speaks for the importance of the NGOs in the new order of human society.
Therefore the first and foremost responsibility that falls on the shoulders of NGOs is of disseminating education among the people at large. This is the biggest role and the biggest challenge for the NGOs. How do we address this is what needs to be debated threadbare.
NGOs will also need to establish their astute neutrality as well as deep involvement. Their neutrality as non-partisan organizations will highly increase their credibility with the peoples and their governments. Their involvement will endear them to the masses of people who will repose in them the trust, which they are somehow loath to repose in the governments when their aspirations are not met. Obviously, the NGOs are made to do tight rope walking. They have to be cautious in their business of alerting the governments, responding to the aspirations of the people, conducting fruitful enterprise for educating people and finally giving direction to the civil society.
The day has come when NGOs will no more be doubted. Their credentials have to be accepted by national and international organizations and their word has to carry the full weight. As such the NGOs have also to be alive to their responsibilities. This calls for a debate on the restructuring of the NGOs themselves along a broad democratic base. They must, in due course of time, become the icons for democratic ideology and dispensation.
The picture of the importance and role of the NGOs, which we are contemplating, eventually necessitates considerable expansion of NGOs, their structure, their corpus of activity, their accessibility and their fund of achievements. It is also a reality and a necessity that NGOs world over confederate into a universal body with regional trappings and then co-ordinate their efforts of building a new civil society in which justice and equity rule the roost.
It is hoped that this conclave of WANGO will take the initiative of forging a vast fraternal organization along the lines stated above.