Friday, July 25, 2014

Working Together to Make Things Work

This is a theme that this section returns to often and brings up yet again today – the need for the Sikkimese to get together more spontaneously and strike more instinctive collaborations and not just unite in complaints.
Writing in 1958, political scientist and influential thinker, Edward Banfield, announced what his research showed as the reason for backwardness – communities which cannot work together. In his seminal work, “The Moral Basis of a Backward Society”, he studied the reasons behind underdevelopment in a village in the southern tip of Italy. His conclusion: “The extreme poverty and backwardness is to be explained largely by the inability of villagers to act together for their common good.” His work was followed up thirty-five years later by a Harvard professor who returned to the same theme and village in 1993. In his book, “Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy”, he concluded that local governments work in northern Italy and fail in southern Italy because northern Italians are more likely to get involved in neighbourhood activities – singing groups, football clubs, cooperatives and networks of small entrepreneurs, while the southern Italians remain aloof and thus backward. Both tips of Italy were governed by the same Central government and the same policies, and yet, while one region progressed, the other refused to develop. These were academic exercises and thus unlikely to have been tinged by parochialism which can contaminate less disciplined analyses. It also makes obvious sense. Measure Sikkim against this theory and the worries become apparent. The State literally spoon-feeds the populace, and is not only the main provider but also the main consumer of everything from human resource to supplies. From education to books to roofs to business to employment, just about everything is serviced by the State and yet the economy is neither vibrant nor the development universally palpable. Can one fault the government for this? There will be those who say that corruption holds development back. Corruption can be a hindrance, but not even corruption can hold the collective will of the people back if it is development that they want and are willing to power. It has to be the community participation, rather, the lack of it, that holds Sikkim back.
Accept it, the Sikkimese, as a people and even as smaller communities, rarely form excited impromptu clubs or groups. There are many NGOs and clubs, but most are either family affairs or a collection of friends. Community participation has to involve a wider circle. That does not happen enough in Sikkim. Only in the very rare flashes do people volunteer into community initiatives, but this is one process which the State cannot sponsor and has to ripple from bottom up and not top down. Unfortunately, collective participation remains uninspired and largely uninvolved in Sikkim. State patronage can support developmental and community instincts of the people, but it cannot create it. And these instincts get honed with a community’s efforts towards and success in working together, celebrating together and learning together, leading to a situation where they develop because of and along with each other. This obviously begins with participation. Now that appears to still be in short supply.

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