To argue this out, it is necessary to identify who is excluded from this collection. To take a few examples, the urban working class, the rural population, the middle and lower ends of the caste hierarchy, and for that matter, the political class, all clearly do not belong to the conglomerate defined above, and have an entirely different agenda. As a simple example of this, it is hard to imagine that the excluded collection would have the kind of interest in the joint entrance exam of the IIT-s that the included fraction does. After all, only about four lakh students take the entrance examination every year, out of our population of one billion plus (it's pointless even to discuss the statistical significance of the 16,000 who actually get in), however, discussions of the entrance exam, however well argued or otherwise, occupy an entirely disproportionate amount of newspaper space, as compared to the concerns of the dispossessed.
So what should civil society do? Maybe it could broaden its outlook. Its current agenda may be all right, but it is narrow, and might even turn out to be self-serving (any bets on which class of society the Lok Pal will come from, if ever we get one?). It is a pity that the agenda of the elite leaders of society is so limited. There was a time when this was not so, and the leaders of civil society looked outwards to the requirements and aspirations of the entire country, and not just to those of people like themselves. This time was before independence, when the elite spearheaded both social reforms, and political movements, and managed to carry the country with themselves. Is it a pipe dream to hope that such a time will come again?
Confession: This blog post was inspired by a recent article by P. Sainath in the Hindu. Do see the article. The Reds do occasionally get something right, especially on issues which are not of any interest to Beijing, and hence do not come with any predefined policy!
This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.