Indian freedom struggle epitomizes collective action over
an extended period of time. The hegemonic dominance of the
colonial rule was opposed by the ordinary Indian masses
through various ingenious methods. The collective action
of the Indian masses reached its zenith during the Quit
India movement in 1942. The fact that Quit India Movement
gained momentum in spite of the arrest of all major leaders
of Indian National Congress convinced the colonial rulers
that their days were numbered in India. It was the collective
action of 1942, which hastened the collapse of the British
Empire in India.
it is much easier to ensure collective action in the face
of common enemy. Propelling large section of people to focus
their energies to achieve a national objective in the absence
of a common and visible enemy is much more difficult. The
reconstruction of post-war Japan and Korea and the phenomenal
economic progress they achieved are a few such examples
which demonstrate that it is possible to mobilize people
for positive goals. Here an important question crops up.
If human beings are the same everywhere, why is it that
some countries are witnessing greater collective action?
The answer lies in institutional arrangements. Take the
case of Eastern Europe, where most of the Communist regimes
were brought down by the collective action of the citizens
in the form of street demonstrations. However, in post-communist
era, the absence of vibrant institutions necessary to channelise
the energies of masses, the spirit of collective action
soon dissipated and was replaced by bitter contention between
various rivals for power. Criminalisation of politics and
endemic corruption have become defining features of these
situation in India is somewhat similar. Criminalisation
of politics and corruption have become endemic features
of our polity too. The situation can be remedied only if
we bring in comprehensive governance reforms. And there
is a popular urge to do so, which can be seen in the response
of the citizens of this country seeking disclosure of candidate
details and the successful 10 million signature campaign
for empowerment of local governments. Clearly, there is
inchoate discontent which needs to be tapped. There have
been successes, but they are sporadic and uneven.
action necessitates powerful ideology and symbolism, which
can be easily understood by large sections of the population.
For instance, Mahatma Gandhi's Salt Satyagraha conveyed
to the people the exploitative nature of the British rule.
Even if we can generate such symbols and ideology that bind
different people for governance reforms, we would still
need institutions and organizations which will capture the
response. For example, the Salt Satyagraha was a brilliant
tactical move, but it was the presence of strong organizations
such as the Indian National Congress, which captured peoples'
sentiments and gave proper direction to it. Today's imperative,
therefore, is to create institutions and structures, which
will capture the urges/yearnings of the people and translate
them into action in a coherent and concerted manner.