India has witnessed social movements that have resulted in significant policy related decision making. In the recent times, such social movements have gained much of its momentum through internet and social media. In this essay, three social movements from India are compared and analysed through case study research in order to draw attention to the growing prevalence of a new form of open consultative policy making process that is both leading to a learning experience for the networked society and also creating newer responsibilities for citizens.
The three social movements analysed are the Right to Information Act movement ; the India Against Corruption movement ; and the Net neutrality movement The case studies are analysed in terms of their unique features of fostering deliberative democracy under the possible influence of internet and social media.
The case studies generate data that could be used to study similar practices with a global comparative perspective. Communication power is on the rise. Internet, through transforming and strengthening this communication power has altered the traditional positions of power in unprecedented ways. Just as internet 1 has touched and transformed every aspect of human life in present times, its significant effects on the realms of politics and governance is captured in this essay through some real world events like the social movements.
Mass movements that have focused on either demanding the legislation of or protesting against specific policy related issues have been termed as social movements in this essay and thus the essay focuses on the transformations in the area of politics and governance. Some of the social movements mentioned here reflect not just the mobilizing power of internet communication but most importantly the real existence of the virtual network society.
Social media has rendered these recent mass movements unique in terms of their momentum of mobilizing power. These unique features are the reasons for most of the renewed vigour in revisiting the study of new forms of social networks with their resulting social movements. This essay is such a study of mass movement in a transformed network society. According to Howard Rheingold, communication power is political power, because the power to influence the beliefs and perceptions of populations has proven to be the most effective political weapon of the century.
It is difficult to analyse the changing communication power of people, with direct or indirect 2 access to internet, without embedding such change within the context of the political environment — democratic in its various forms or non-democratic. Even some of the recent social movements that have happened in non-democratic political systems have happened for reasons of democracy, either to establish it some form or to consolidate it further.
Democracy is thus vital to communication and at the same time renders it problematic. This paper describes some of the changes in the processes of policy making viewing it as a communication process between networks of actors. The effect of social media on mass mobilization, the consequent effect of such mobilization on the impact and effectiveness of social movements, the changes in the overall governance and processes of policy making are some of the themes that have been taken up for study in this paper.
This paper explores the dynamics of the correlation between these themes within the context of the democratic politics of India through a cross case analysis. Thus a description of the changes occurring in the policy making processes, and whether it is possible to establish a correlation between such changes and the presence of internet and social media, is the central question of study here. In this study, the theoretical framework used is distinguished in two different areas — the theories and concepts related to democracy and those related to internet.
The model of democracy which forms the theoretical foundation of this study is deliberative democracy. A deliberative democracy is any form of public deliberation of free and equal citizens aimed at political decision-making and self-governance. A deliberative model has become prominent within academic and civil society e-democracy circles. This model posits the internet as the means for an expansion of a public sphere of citizen deliberation leading to rational public opinion that can hold official decision makers accountable.
According to the theory of social networking, social networking whether online or in person, focuses on social capital. Social capital is the aggregation of actual and virtual resources an individual or group attains via networks built from meeting other people or groups.
Deliberative theory of democracy is broad. The goals attributed to public deliberation range from informed citizenry, and informed public opinion, to mobilizing citizens for participating in the creation of public policy. The expectations from citizens also vary from providing informed public opinion to working through issues together. The public sphere being the communication channel of the civil society is equated with media and in this study it is equated with internet media.
It is by making this the framework of analysis that the researcher selects three civil society movements as cases which offer the opportunity to study the possible correlation between the use of internet and social media and formal policy outcomes, since policy outcomes ultimately depend upon the extent of influence the stakeholders could have based on their level and scope for participation. Internet provides a new public space, which is not synonymous with a new public sphere. As public space, the internet provides yet another forum for political deliberation. As public sphere, the internet could facilitate discussion that promotes a democratic exchange of ideas and opinions.
It is the taking up of communicative rationality within informal interactions that constitutes the social space of democratic reasoning known as the public sphere. Thus it is also the form of communication, and not just the content, that is decisive in defining the boundaries of this sphere. It is here that social media has displayed some unique role in transforming the form of communication that establishes newer network potential that influences individual and consequent collective public opinion formation and participation.
The cases selected here for comparison are typical in exhibiting conditions for the specific factors to be studied generalizations beyond the specific practices studied might be limited.
The principle factor of study here is the use of internet and social media by social movement organisers or other stakeholders for mobilizations or deliberation. According to Habermas, decision making is possible through a reenergised, activist, engaged citizenry, working together to create new small scale communicative associative institutions that over time merge into larger ones, or at least join forces. These three cases offer the most reliable opportunities to locate these criteria. The three social movements 3 selected are the Right to Information Act movement ; the India Against Corruption movement ; and the Net neutrality movement The social movements are studied through case study methodology and then the three cases are compared based on the selected parameters.
The cases are selected across a time span of twenty years thus each case is decontextualized in terms of time of the event, involving different patterns of engagement and different backgrounds of stakeholders. However, they are all embedded into the same political landscape of India within the same geographical and cultural boundaries of a country thus enabling the identification of the factor that was present in varying degrees between any two cases and thus inferentially linking it to difference in outcomes.
The cases are selected on the basis of having the common factor of being social movements, all aimed at major law or policy related decision making processes. Given the fact that social phenomena like social movements are often rooted in a complex web of causes, it would be impossible to isolate the effect of the dynamics of relationships of other factors that might have extraneous influence here.
Yet based on the factual data about the advent of different forms of internet technology and media and their subsequent use in India, it was easy to identify the difference in the adoption and use of social media in the three different cases having taken place at three different points of time. The independent factor of the internet and social media is physically present in different forms with different levels of functional influence at the different time periods to which the cases of analysis belong.
The role of internet and social media 4 is treated as an independent variable here and its effect on the mass movements in the physical or online world is examined here in order to draw inferences regarding the possibility of any correlation existing between the social media effected mass movements and on the changing pattern of policy making processes. The factor of Goal Attainment is subdivided into parameters, which are defined and described in detail below.
Deliberation has been considered vital to the democratic process of policy related decision-making.
Therefore, while analysing the social movements, deliberation has been treated as part being the goal of the movement along with the policy outcome. The assumption here has been that goal of the movement as exhibited by its organisers is treated as its sole objective without getting into the other strategic objectives that it could have had, which would be incorrect and biased to assume simply because this analysis is being done in retrospect and therefore having knowledge of the events that unfolded later on.
The extent and quality of deliberation across platforms, whether physical or online, across cases have not been studied in terms of theoretical normatives. But the existence of deliberation is located with data 5 about participation of people, methods of interfacing and consultations used under conditions of various structures of platforms 6 physical or virtual. Since there is no general agreement on the criterion, which could determine when deliberation is successful, studying specific practices of a select group of online participants bound by a particular issue and pre moderation, cannot be called representative of the diverse and prolific practices of cyberspace and therefore not taken up for analysis here.
However, it definitely opens up avenues for future research. Goal Attainment in the context of democratic deliberation is not just the making of the law or policy demanded by the people but also ensuring that some of the democratic safeguards are maintained. Thus deliberation is treated as one of the parameters of the goal of social movements along with other parameters. All the parameters of goal attainment are included under the assumption that these factors are controllable through effective planning and strategizing to a large extent by any of the stakeholders — the organizing civil society organization CSO 7 of the movement, the government, or any other stakeholder participating in the policy or law making process.
Therefore, the factor of Goal Attainment is further broken down into parameters like: a mobilization; b fostering deliberation; c policy outcome; d awareness and operational continuity. The other factors like background, structural elements — purpose, organizing body, strategies — are left out from analysis for reasons of their vastness and expanse of extraneous influence and yet mentioned in context in order to generate data for future works in similar lines. The author has predominantly used desk research methods and referred to public records, government reports, peer reviewed research sources, transcripts of interviews, scholarly articles, secondary data on content analysis of online platforms and news reports in reputable newspapers to outline the cases and analyse the selected parameters of study.
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In the s there was a rise in the demand for Right to Information in India. Globally there was a trend of adopting freedom of information legislation and policies across various countries 8. It was a time when India was opening up its doors to global markets through policies on economic liberalization. There was a growing dissatisfaction with representative democracy in India with the ever increasing distance between the state and the citizen amidst growing political and economic inequalities. The citizens wanted to participate beyond just elections in matters of law that affected them.
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From the early s, a grassroots movement had started in the rural areas of the state of Rajasthan 9 in India demanding access to government information on behalf of the wage workers and small farmers who were often deprived of their rightful wages or their just benefits under government schemes. The grassroots organization Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan 10 MKSS had started articulating these demands of the farmers into a strong demand for official information recorded in government files.
The movement slowly metamorphosed into a mass movement that quickly spread across the country.
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The need was felt for a national RTI legislation and this needed a national body that could coordinate and oversee the legislation process. At the early stage it played crucial role in assimilating the demands of the people at the grassroots level and then moving them towards the articulation stage. Several state government versions of the law 14 were already in force but with hardly much substance. After moving through several rounds of conferences, committee meetings, and discussions, revising, reviewing and amending the drafts, the national Freedom of Information Act was passed in The failure of this Act in providing a date of effect 15 , ultimately made way for a more robust and stronger national RTI Act, passed finally in This section helps in analysing social movements empirically in terms of how these operations could well be treated as well-coordinated and well executed act of strategizing and consultations involving a wide spectrum of beneficiaries of the outcome social, political or economic.
There was a growing need for transparency in state-citizen relationship. Such transparency was achievable through a national RTI Act. Organizing Body.
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The background of the global trends along with the domestic socio-economic demands had made it expedient on the government and its bureaucracy to make way for not just such a law, but such a process of law-making. NCPRI not just managed to establish its credibility as a representative of the people, as an umbrella organization representing the combined interests of the various CSOs, it also very strategically broadened its constituency of supporters by coordinating with numerous workshops, conventions and seminars hosted by universities and research institutions that were held throughout the country during the period.
The incorporation of local knowledge of the people at the articulation stage immensely shaped the design of the process. This local knowledge proved crucial not just as a great source of knowledge and information, but also its inclusion increased the legitimacy and sense of participation among the people.
It also proved effective in awareness raising and learning capacity building. Specialised Subject Knowledge of individuals who were active members of the civil society groups like those of NCPRI played important role in the success of the process. Most of the members of these groups as well as individual members had backgrounds in law, civil services and academia, which proved immensely helpful at a collaborative stage of drafting of the law when the government looked for active support and participation.