The 2011 anti-corruption movement in India-characterised by a huge trust deficit in the political class-was the culmination of several such localised movements that marked the birth of a new civil society in contemporary urban India. This paper studies the profusion of middle-class-led associations in Mumbai fighting for good governance, and their increased political mobilisation in the city.
India ushered in the year 2011 with a widespread anti-corruption movement that grabbed national and international media attention. It was the culmination of several localised mobilisations that simmered across urban India. These local movements, and later the massive one, were all characterised by a huge trust deficit in elected representatives and the political class in general.
Calling on the government to address widespread corruption in public offices through better governance, the anti-corruption movement marked the beginning of a new civil society in contemporary urban India; at the forefront were Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Delhi.
The city of Mumbai, or Bombay as it was known, has witnessed civil society engagements over the centuries. These engagements have taken various forms: citizens’ movements for rights and privileges; interventions through the press; informal and formal workings of governance that cut across civil society and political society; working class movements; and movements around language and ethnicity.
The evolution of what would eventually be referred to as Mumbai’s ‘civil society’, is strongly embedded in the city’s colonial history.
Even the most rudimentary forms of early civil society in the city were marked by an engagement with the state for certain specific rights. This engagement, spanning over a long period in colonial and postcolonial history, is also linked with the evolution of the discourse on citizenship, shifting power structures, class formation, formal and informal politics, and various forms of engagement with the state.
Arjun Appadurai, renowned social-cultural anthropologist, has noted that throughout the 20th century—and even earlier, in the 19th century—Mumbai has had powerful civic traditions of philanthropy, social work, political activism, and social justice.
There was a distinct change in the situation after the 1990s, resulting from economic liberalisation, the move towards democratic decentralisation after the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA), 1992, and the good governance discourse.
The so-called ‘new civil society’, that emerged parallel to the changing political context of the times, pressed for increasing participation of citizens and partnerships with the government across sectors.
This paper is based on a qualitative analysis of a detailed case study on the Non-Government Organisation (NGO) Council in Mumbai, its position in the trajectory of greater Civil Society Organisation (CSO) participation and citizen partnerships that began in the post-1990s, and the increasing political mobilisation of CSOs in Mumbai—specifically witnessed since the municipal elections of 2007.
Thus, this paper examines the following research questions: (i) What led to the emergence of new civil society in contemporary urban India?; and (ii) What are its characteristic features and political implications?
The paper concludes that there exists an inextricable link between the State and civil society, with the latter able to grow only within a given political environment. New civil society expands its boundaries in significant ways and much of its growth can be attributed to the favourable post-1990s political environment.