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IN RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT

By the time this issue reaches you, I will have relinquished the positions of Director of Common Cause and editor of this journal. I am, therefore, taking the liberty of striking a personal note in my last leader. I crave the indulgence of the readers of this journal for this departure from the established norm of devoting the lead article to an issue of topical interest.

I have had the good fortune to enjoy the confidence and unstinting support of the members of the Society and its Governing Council in the ongoing process of consolidation of the legacy of the Founder Director, Shri H. D. Shourie. In these eight eventful years, we have been able to transform what essentially was an individual initiative into a collegial, research-based, systems-driven and net-worked organisation. 

My association with Common Cause has been a highly rewarding and enriching experience for me, and I deem it a privilege to have been given the opportunity to serve this great organisation during a crucial phase of its evolution. It is a matter of immense satisfaction for me that we have been able to dispel the unwarranted impression held by certain sections of civil society that ours was an organisation preoccupied with issues of concern to the middle classes and to reclaim our place in the vanguard of the campaign for people-centric governance reforms and probity in public life. Our initiatives in policy advocacy and public interest litigation have focused on issues of preservation of democratic institutions, environment conservation and protection of human rights, particularly of the disadvantaged sections of society.

All this while, we have steadily grown as an organisation. We have been able to streamline our processes, create the nucleus of an effective work force, and build issue-based civil society alliances to extend our impact and reach. We have adopted information technology, expanded and modernised our work place, and put our financial position on a firmer footing.

Only one thing remained to be done: we needed to put in place a plan of succession in order to avoid any hiatus in the functioning of the organisation and ensure a seamless transition at an opportune moment. As my first term as Director approached its end in 2011,I tried to locate a young and energetic person with an established record of public service and the willingness to take over the reins of an organisation like Common Cause.

After a protracted search, we have in the person of Dr. Vipul Mudgal finally found someone who fully meets the requirements of the job and is motivated by a spirit of voluntarism. A distinguished journalist and academic with an outstanding record of engagement with issues of development and marginalisation, Dr. Mudgal has been Director of the Publics and Policies Programme at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. He continues to direct the Inclusive Media for Change Project sited at CSDS. The output of the Project is prodigious and of a high quality. It has created a clearing house of information on `India marginalized' and generated meaningful debates on critical social issues largely ignored by media, making for a sharper coverage of these unglamorous subjects.

There is a significant overlap between Dr. Mudgal's concerns and endeavours and the mission and objectives of Common Cause. The complementarities with the Inclusive Media for Change Project are obvious. The Project will eventually be integrated with Common Cause.

Dr. Mudgal is also a crusader for Ethics in Media and a leading light of Foundation for Media Professionals. He is closely associated with reputed civil society organisations, such as Association for Democratic Reforms, National Campaign for People's Right to Information, Bharat Rural Livelihoods Foundation, and Sambhaavnaa Institute. He joined as Co-Director of Common Cause and will take over as Director by the end of March. I am confident that Vipul will enjoy the unqualified support of the entire Common Cause family in furthering the mission and objectives of the organisation and successfully lead the Society in the next phase of its evolution.

The conjuncture today is rather unfavourable to civil society organisations. They are confronted with formidable challenges, and their motives have become suspect. Establishments are constitutionally distrustful of independent voluntary organisations. Some administrations, however, recognise their potential as force multipliers and manage to find ways of harnessing their energies in the pursuit of shared goals. Others find it expedient to blame the failure of their social and economic initiatives on an obstructive civil society obsessed by the inconvenient issues of popular participation, transparency, accountability, and such like. At this juncture, the patience of most governments is wearing thin and they are becoming increasingly intolerant of dissent. Any attempt to hold them accountable for their acts of omission and commission is likely to invite immediate retribution.

Even more worrisome for us are the signs of a strange reluctance on the part of the judiciary to take on a newly assertive executive emboldened by its parliamentary majority. Concerted efforts to blunt the edge of the instrument of public interest litigation, which Common Cause has been wielding to great effect, are underway. On Dr. Mudgal's watch, Common Cause may have to chart out a new course to circumvent the emerging hurdles and evolve innovative strategies to pursue its foundational objectives.