Spotlight On…. National Social Watch Coalition of India

Next month in India, the “world´s largest democracy” will begin a process of national Parliamentary elections for the first time since 2004, in a critical moment in which issues related to security and to the economy are weighing heavily on voters´ minds. Taking this context into account, this month´s “Spotlight On…” column will focus on the Social Watch India coalition, whose work to promote transparency and accountability in politics will be crucial during this election period.

For over five years, the National Social Watch Coalition (NSWC) has brought together a broad cross-section of Indian civil society organizations, citizens and communities, to carry out a process of monitoring governmental institutions on a national, state-wide and local level, as an attempt to measure the rhetoric against the reality regarding policymakers´ commitments to promote democracy and accountability towards the citizenry.  The Social Watch process is the collective response of a number of development organisations, social action groups, and concerned citizens, working together to ensure a critical engagement with the process of governance, thus making Indian democracy meaningful and participatory.

The launching of the Social Watch initiative in India was marked by the publication of the first Citizens Report on Governance and Development in 2003, spearheaded by the civil society organizations Center for Youth and Social Development and the National Center for Advocacy Studies, with the active participation of a host of social scientists, journalists, experts on gender issues, human rights practitioners, and trade union leaders.  Since that time, the NSWC has published three subsequent annual Citizens Reports, as well as policy papers (the “perspectives” series) promoting best practices related to governance accountability and advocating for more pro-poor policies.  

In addition, the NSWC has succeeded in spurring the creation of local monitoring processes in 14 states, involving dozens of NGOs and community groups.  In fact some states, such as Andhra Pradesh, are already producing their own annual Reports.  This regional-level work is intimately connected to the Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (“Keep Your Promises Campaign”), which evolved out of the 2004 World Social Forum in Mumbai as an initiative to hold the government accountable for complying with national and international commitments to end poverty, such as the national Common Minimum Programme and the Millennium Development Goals.  In particular, the campaign mobilizes around issues such as education, health, access to water, and effectiveness in social policy implementation.

NSWC´s research and advocacy work, renowned for its broad scope and credibility, has attracted the attention of mainstream and alternative media outlets, as well as policymakers on all levels.  Both print and broadcast media on a national and regional level have covered the launchings of the national Reports, thus generating public debates related to the topic of good governance.  Among legislators and government ministers, the Reports have also had a significant echo, with many of these policymakers citing the findings of the Reports in their speeches and taking in to account the policy recommendations included in the publications.  For example, the issues of lost time in the Parliament and declining standards of Parliamentary behaviour, profiled in several NSWC Reports, have spurred the introduction of reforms in both the Upper and Lower Houses to correct this malady.  Equally significantly, representatives of the NSWC were invited to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July, 2007 for an exchange of ideas related to themes of governance accountability presented in the Reports, and have also participated in dialogues with the national Planning Commission regarding issues of micro-planning, agricultural sector reforms, and voluntary-sector policies. 

Participation in the international Social Watch network is also an important facet of the NSWC´s efforts.  In addition to reporting on India for the global SW Report, members of the Coalition have served on the Social Watch Coordinating Committee and have participated actively in all of the General Assemblies.  Most recently, NSWC was named as a partner organization for the European Commission-funded project “Making anti-poverty and gender policies accountable to citizens,” (see article in this e-bulletin for more details), which implies that the Coalition will play a central role in the organizing of a capacity-building workshop for Watchers in the Asian region, as well as work on a new local-level methodology to measure social indicators in developing countries. 

With five years of experience to boot, the NSWC has made important inroads towards the creation of a “caucus group” made up of legislators, journalists and citizens who are committed to advancing the process of a good governance agenda from within as well as exerting pressure from below in order to create a favourable discourse and practice regarding governance.  It is hoped that this process continues to grow and strengthen, regardless of which political party or coalition of parties comes out on top in next month´s elections.

For more information on the National Social Watch Coalition of India, see