28/07/2016 3:57 PM IST | Updated 01/08/2016 8:37 AM IST

India Must Promote Transparency In BRICS By Engaging Civil Society

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India has become the chair of the BRICS grouping of nations this year and it can use this opportunity to promote greater transparency by engaging with civil society.

This is because India has a vibrant civil society and strong democratic traditions. In fact, this year India is continuing a tradition that started in 2013 in Brazil. That year the South American country initiated a dialogue with its civil society in order to take into account their concerns related to the BRICS process. That tradition continued over the next two years in South Africa and Russia and this year, India will hold a "Civil BRICS" conference in October, just before the official BRICS summit in Goa. What's more, the Ministry of External Affairs is funding the Civil BRICS.

Now, this is a good thing. Because, as events round the world in the past few months have shown, it's not a good idea to ignore civil society.

The need for more transparency at the BRICS has never been greater.

I am not restricting the definition of civil society to NGOs, trusts, and other collectives that work with the grassroots on social justice issues. I mean the entirety of public opinion: from individuals to groups of people working independently or in a formal sense towards shaping opinion on issues that affect the polity. Civil society acts as an intermediary between the State and the individual in articulating these concerns.

Now, as we saw with the Turkish coup, a simple message via Facetime from President Erdogan brought the masses flooding onto the streets and broke the back of the attempted putsch. In June, a slim majority of the British people voted to take the UK out of the European Union, influenced by fears that their government was not in control of its own destiny.

Multilateral trade deals being negotiated currently face criticism for being too non-transparent. Cases in point are the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which are being negotiated in secrecy, giving rise to fears about further offshoring of jobs and lowering of wages in Western nations. Small wonder that Donald Trump has criticized trade deals like NAFTA that have worked to the disadvantage of working class Americans.

The need for more transparency at the BRICS has never been greater. The new BRICS bank -- or New Development Bank as it is called -- has been in the news for an alleged lack of transparency. Activists from civil society organizations are questioning why the bank is not consulting with them on lending to projects that may have deleterious social consequences, especially since the bank has been envisaged as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In recent times there has been conflict between the government and civil society, which this piece in the Huffington Post calls the tension between representative and participatory democracy. However, civil society in India has a long and robust tradition. And India has the democratic pedigree for a constructive engagement between the State and its people.

Marginalizing civil society and public opinion can have disastrous consequences. For BRICS to succeed and be true to its promise of providing an alternative to the current world order based on the primacy of the West, it needs to engage with all stakeholders and promote transparency.

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