Civil Society, Governance and Nonviolence

Insurgencies amounting to terrorist use of means and organization of violence are signs of state’s inability to mediate justice and fair play.  When state’s capacity to be non-partisan and truly representative of the national culture of its people is reduced, it is a   sign of the following two:

  1. Something basically wrong with the very system of governance; and,
  2. Something wrong with the (civil) society; which, in democratic governance, is supposed to reflect its aspirations through the popular electoral process.

Democratic governance is a symbiosis of national popular aspirations and rule of law, order and justice, brought in force through a popular mandate.  If it fails to mediate justice such that a part of the nation is forced to play a violent politics of identity, then the disease must be in the very ways of the constitution of the mandate.  Present secular authority of the modern State, activated through Westminster model of parliamentary system, is essentially subversive of national harmony.  Such is the pitiable condition of our Rajya-Satta, i.e. State-power, that in the very political process of activating the State the text of national disharmony is written.  Its backbone, the Parliamentary System, acquires popular mandate through a well-articulated process invariably thriving on exploitation of different-ness among people.  The religious, communal, ethnic, social, cultural and economic differences are redefined and restructured into political fault-lines instead of building unity and coherence among seeming diversities.  Diversity and plurality is converted into mutual competitiveness and then into mutual animosity.  All the plurality is redefined as fault-lines of incompatible interests, and thus diversity is activated into an only channel of discord and disharmony.  All this, they argue, is for the sake of justice.  Justice is invoked; then dispensed in a manner of that monkey in the Panch-Tantra  story.  Once throwing the nation into quarrelling factions, the brokers of the modern political governance sit down to share power tightly among them and then call it a popular mandate, consensus, democratic process and what not

What is supposed to create a symbiosis of national aspirations and governance, so that governance delivers justice to all the components of the nation equally, is in fact incapable of harmonizing democratic freedom with justice.  Only   a part of nation enjoys more freedom than the other, and as a result power is not equitably enjoyed and harmoniously affected. Politics of identity in most such nations takes extreme form of violent insurgencies when injustice is perceived across a homogeneous socio-cultural or religious group.  In Sri Lanka it is ethnic homogeneity.  Such violence as exercised by LTTE or by similar militant forces elsewhere creates an environment of fear.  Civil society is rendered ineffective and incapable if a strong national and non-partisan force, either in the form of a leader or a movement, ( such as Gandhian movement   in India till recently), does not exist. Only through such leadership – in person or as civil society initiative — spiritual-cultural resources for peaceful and harmonious co-existence among diverse groups, ethnicities and nationalities can be mobilized.  One word for what is thus mobilized is “nonviolence”.  Nonviolence is that which brings peaceful and harmonious co-existence among seeming adversaries through mobilizing spiritual and cultural resources.  Nonviolence thus is a crucial interface between civil society and governance –if by democratic governance we  mean  a society’s movement towards rule of equitable justice through a legitimized process of  popular participation.

Democratic governance is properly energized when there is a living society capable of steering the nation and guiding the State.  When a nation is divided, society is rendered incapable of marshalling its inner correctives (spiritual and cultural resources). The State loses its representative character.  Secular norms of governance fall prey to the violence of competitive claims of power by sub-national identities.

A living society is one, which has its corrective capacities at its back and call, and therefore is capable of handling dynamically changing and challenging political, social, ethnic equations and relationships.  The final test of corrective capacity is a society’s reliance or non-reliance on means of violence and fear for correcting the wrong.  Conversely, a living society is ‘living’ when in the case of a failed or a sick State, it is able to rally nonviolent and /or peaceful ways of resolving conflicts.  It is thus in nonviolent and peaceful abilities that the test of the civility of a civil society lies.  In order to be called ‘civil’, a society must possess positive attributes that heal the wounds on the body and soul of its national unity and on its polity.  Healing is a function of active nonviolence, for healing is nonviolence.  However, in a continuous reign of terror and fear, a society’s own initiatives get suppressed.  This is more so when society is polarized and nonpartisanship becomes rare.  Its own healing capacities, thus undermined, need external stimulant; or, in other words, — nonviolent assistance from a nonpartisan (external) party.


The colonial backlog of many of the Asian societies is carried forward in forms of inner divisions caused by politics of transformation, development and modernization.  They are thrown into negative politics of identity.  At times, as in the case of Hindu-Muslim division in India, or Tamil-Sinhala divide in Sri Lanka, civil society is rendered divided in proportion to the emotive fire of the issues; everyone who matters is forced into taking sides, to play his/her identity or to play-down the identity – both ways it turns civil society into partisan blocks or in inaction  (uncreative action).

At such moments of political, social and cultural upheavals a ‘third or an external’ party is required to function, act, as a catalytic agent for the inner corrective, healing resources. Organized and trained nonviolence is the only alternative and guarantee in today’s time, which can reaffirm civil society’s power and its capacity to correct maladies of governance and human right abuse.

Nonviolent Peace force’s Third Party role as a nonpartisan, organized and trained nonviolent force, howsoever humble in the face of the violent situation, its significance can not be minimized in the light of its role as a stimulant for the spiritual and cultural resources for harmonious and peaceful co-existence among diverse groups/ethnicities in Sri Lanka.  Only when such inner resources are stimulated does civil society become capable of reforming democratic institutions and thus of meeting the challenges of governance.

Organized and trained nonviolence is the only alternative and guarantee in today’s time, which can reaffirm civil society’s power and its capacity to correct maladies of governance and human right abuse.


Rajiv Vora

(Based on a consultation with a group of senior intellectuals/policy makers 25-04 –04, NOT FOR CIRCULATION/PUBLICATION)