Dialogue July- September, 2005, Volume 7  No. 1

Gross Social Conflict

Towards a framework of Analysis, Measurement and Management

Prof. G. R. S. Rao

Social Conflict has been described, as a part of empirical analyses based on several factors obtaining in India. Two dominant sets of factors that may be categorised as ‘historical’ are (a) the religious/communal, and (b) caste. But equally dominant, pervasive and growing critical by the day, are the conflicts that are emerging from (a) the process of ‘power’; and (b) socio-economic – cultural emerging from the process of social change development. All these factors operate in association with each other, almost inseparably, in an interwoven manner. It is this interweaving of the causal factors that leads to their analyses (from the standpoint of academic disciplines, and of the analysts), in terms of causal and contributory, or, in terms of primary, secondary and tertiary. Most often, these factors are identified from the standpoints of ‘disciplines’ political, social, economic and cultural/ethnic et al. From the standpoint of public policy and governance process, these factors, are analysed in terms of the public policy loop of electoral, legislative, administrative, judicial et al. These ‘approaches’ reflect the adage : “what one sees depends upon where he sits”, as such observations encompass also the perceptions, values, identities and interests of the analyst. The terms of reference and modus of study and action emerging there from also get ‘conditioned’, either by bias and/or prejudices.

In the context of Indian ground conditions this paper attempts to explore, (1) mapping the nature and range of the phenomenon of conflict (2) an inclusive framework of its analyses, as to help mapping of Gross Social Conflict (GSC) at any particular point of time, as well as its fluctuating levels, leading to (3) an acceptable measurement of conflict just as we have developed measures to measure Gross Domestic Product, Human Development Index (HDI) and the like, and finally explore (4) normative base and institutional mechanisms for the management of conflict in India.

1.0 Bench-Marking Conflict: Indian Scenario

The hundred years of movement for political freedom had witnessed a convergence of the masses and the classes, and its adjunct agenda of social reform. Indian civilization has constantly absorbed and synthesized diverse values, identities and cultures, and absorbed and harmonized conflicts of interests in the process, it has been enriching and evolving. With a cosmic canvas, it had demonstrated its universal and enduring characteristics. During the recent centuries, the popular mobilization aimed at freedom from alien rule (without generating animosity towards the aliens) a spontaneous movement towards democracy, and framing of the Constitution with its sights on human development represented the progression of its civilizational ethic. Democratic ethic of governance was a logical and spontaneous consensual choice. The choice of pluralism was not a compulsion left by the Muslim League led partition leading to the emergence of a theocratic Pakistan, but, an intrinsic continuum of Indian ethos of pluralism. And to capital, Indian constitution has been sculpted as the finest document of human rights in the contemporary world. It was in this background that India had emerged as a role model of democracy in the 20th century.

India has advocated, and practiced fraternal relations in the human society across religious (Hindu-Muslim) and national (Hindi-Chini) boundaries knowing and willingly paying a price.

Rejecting the market driven capitalist economy as much as the exclusively state managed socialism, it had adopted the middle path of socialistic mode of economy in order to bring about revolutionary changes in terms of economic equity and social justice, in an evolutionary mode.

“Social Reform was adopted to rid the society of the evils such as dowry, Sati, untouchability and the like as a part of political campaign for freedom in to preference the legislative-administrative mode.

Freedom movement churned the society as a whole, it has provided leadership that had spurred social reformers and social activists in such a manner that Gandhi wanted the Indian National Congress to be converted into a social reform organization. There was a convergence of institutions creating a synergic impact of harmony and progression in society. The smooth integration of the 565 princely states was acknowledged the world over as unprecedented and as a great historic event in the emergence of India as a unified nation with a unified vision. What else can be a better canvas for stability and change, of harmony and development in India?

Bench-marking conflict

Indian scenario at its take off stage, as a democratic nation and constitutional vision, provides the canvas and helps develop Bench-marks in the emergence of social conflict as much as to identify, and analyse the institutional structures, systems and operational processes – their effectiveness and efficiency in the containment and management of conflict. Thus performance in the management of social conflict.

2.0 Factors and Manifestations

Analytically, basic elements of conflict in any society can be identified as falling into

(a) values, clustering into ideological dispositions, (b) interests clustering into social groups and classes, and (c) identities that cluster into more enduring segments of a society. These basic elements or factors of conflict may operate either in isolation or in a mosaic of mutating clusters. This is where two other sets of factors emerge as the basic elements of conflict.

These factors emerge from two social processes viz. (d) social change as a ‘normal’/ ‘natural’ phenomenon obtaining in all societies all the time, and (e) the institutions operating, seeking to shape and in turn get conditioned by the process of change. These elements can be brought into an analytical framework, as it is attempted here, within the given social context of India, instead of in isolation in a theoretical or conceptual format. However, the attempt is to illustrate, that can lead to at a later point, to an analytical exercise.

All these elements or clusters of factors do not obtain, much less operate at the same level of intensity. Their relative values or intensity depends upon the nature and degree of cognition, popular perceptions, awareness, enduring attitudes and behavioural dispositions. Even more fascinating for an analyst, they interact and impact in a situation-specific dynamic mode. The spectrum of these elements can be mapped out as a basis for bench-marking, measurement and to formulate strategies to manage them.

2.0 Illustrative Spectrum of Elements of Conflict in Society

   Sl.     Elements                  Harmonisers Bi                     Triggers

No.                                     Polar Direction

                 A                                    B                                       C

     1     Values –Ideals/        Equality                                 Discrimination

            Ideological               Equity                                    IMonoculture

            Dispositions           Plurality                                 Cul-Intolerance

     2     Interests                  Access/Resources                  Deprivation

            Entitlements            Water/Education/                   Exploitation

                                            Health/Justice                        Marginalization

                                            Choice / Child labour


     3     Identities                 Plural                                     Communal Riots

                                            Secular                                   Minoritism-Yadav

                                            Gender                                   (MY)

     4     Power                      Democracy                            Autocracy

                                            Freedom                                 Feudalism

                                            Liberty                                   Electoral Fraud

     5     Social-                     Equalization                           Disparities Growing

            Change                    Development

            Gdp-Hdi-Gsc      Forest Produce                      Distances/Prejudices

                                            Quality Of Life

            Historical                Affordable – Available

            Hangovers               Water Ipcl                              Distortions

                                            At Which Cost –                   Backlash

                                            Whose Cost                           Hostility

                                            Reservations – Mandal


            Misalliance              Reversal – Mandir/Masjid


     6     Institutions of         Common objects                    Fouling the Game


                                            Csl Lej                                Roal-Goal Conflict


            Accentuate              Complementary tasks           Anarchy


     7     Internal                    External                                  Fusion

            Extremism               Terrorism                               Regression

                                                                                           Arms Supplies


                                                                                           Threat to democracy

The spectrum of elements / factors of conflict in society warrants some illustrative explanations, though an exhaustive analysis is excluded consciously from this exploratory note.

2.1 Conflict of values / Ideals

The polyglot society that is India, characterized by continental size, racial milieu, ethnic variety, cultural diversity, linguistic multiplicity, religious plurality, rural-urban hiatus not to speak of wide variations in the socio-cultural status of people based on age, gender and historical factors such as feudalism, mutations of caste and economic disparities, secured political freedom, and gave unto itself a Constitution providing not merely the instrumentalities of governance, but also the goals of political, economic, social and cultural freedom as the agenda for social transformation – all this through a process of political consensualism which has itself been a unique feature of Indian civilization. A design for change of a revolutionary order in an evolutionary mode – a prescription for harmony and development. But an overview of the process of democratic transformation indicates that while nobody can make a serious issue of the pace of change in the face of the backlog; the direction (substance) and the process of change have thrown up a wide range of negative indicators – triggers of conflict in place of the intended harmonizers of democratic transformation, they also reveal unipolarity in terms of intensity of conflict. The several deficiencies in the democratic electoral basic process of power, autocratic/feudalistic leadership with scant reverence for either democratic ethic or electoral sanctity (the Rules of the Game), massive disenfranchisement and peoples’ disenchantment with the political/electoral process (as reflected in the emerging demand for ‘None of The Above’ as a voting option) – in short the process of ‘Biharization of Indian Polity’ have all intensified conflict in the polity. The emergence of ‘anti-democratic’ forces, and wide spread empathy if not support among the people reflect the trigger effect of conflict expressed in terms of Ballot versus Bullet.

2.2 Conflict of Interests

Democracy means decentralization of power, people’s participation (beyond casting a vote) and inclusiveness, freedom and choice, rights of citizenship, empowerment and entitlements. Factors such as deprivation (of education, healthcare, livelihoods), exploitation (child labour, bonded labour), lack of access to water, to Justice, and the rights of citizenship (which represent the core of human rights) have created a trigger effect on the nature and degree of social conflict. Who is exploiting whom depends upon the dynamics of “power-shift”. Within the span of a few decades, a shift in the power is vividly illustrated in the sphere of industrial relations. During the early phase of industrialization, if the managements indulged in exploitative control over labour, the trade-union movement and the wave of welfare legislation had reversed the equations into a situation where the organized labour exploited the managements, in all sectors. This dramatic shift was illustrated by the statement of a trade-union leader (in response to a manager’s statement that they are taking full care of the interests of the workers) : “what have you given?, we have fought for, and won”. The process of economic liberalization has set in the process of disempowerment of the workers.

The Constitutional amendment providing for constitutionally autonomous status to the Panchayati Raj institutions, the centralised bureaucracy left untouched, and the recentralization of power in the political parties is yet another illustration of the dynamics of power shift. No wonder some of those who espouse the cause of the diverse range of human rights are described by some critics as “rights extremists”. It is in the same vein the debate gets accentuated as to whether Naxalism is the ‘cause’ or ‘consequence’ of the distortions of democratic development.

2.3 Fragmented Identities: Fractured Society

A pluralist polity characterized by commonality of goals and processes, over the five decades has been botched up with distorted and much abused concepts such as ‘secularism’, reservations and minoritism to such an extent that the ‘commonality’ is reduced to fragmented identities with the consequence that we have a fractured polity. Inspite of the communal politics, Indian polity retains its quintessentially ‘secular’ character. Political process has lost sight of the vision of India, and the mission of governance. The decisive reality is reduced to “ruling” versus “opposition” faction, which are reinforced to an extent that there are no limits to which political parties can go in creating social turbulence inorder to run down the party in power. A sick body-politic can not develop immunities but will become an easy prey to the internal forces of anarchy and schism, much more to the external forces and factors of ‘fundamentalism-extremism-terrorism’ all in one, which are always waiting to generate conflict and disruption of democracy and social order. It appears that we have not only not developed immunities, but because we have a political system that has come to use ‘conflict’ as a means to secure and sustain political power, it also appears that the political leadership is growing indifferent to the external forces of anarchy. When the popular psyche is ignited with hatred, the nation witnesses incidents such as in Delhi (1984), Mumbai (1992-93), Gujarat (2001) et al. The champions of ‘secularism’ by which they swear, in and out of context, do not recognize that casteism could be equally, if not more, fatal to the country seeking to move together, towards a common set of goals of liberal democracy. The statistics of fatality and human distress caused by Delhi, Bombay and Gujarat pale into insignificance when compared to the statistics and human degradation in a single state such as Bihar. It is strange that champions of Minorities and Yadavs (MY) spit fire in the name of the botched-up label of secularism.

Buddhists who came out of Hinduism in protest against the caste system are today the neo-protagonists of a caste-based hierarchy. Dr. Ambedkar who gave up Hinduism in protest against caste-based oppression has been reduced into a symbol of caste based politics in India. Islam and Christianity are no exception to this phenomenon. Democracy in India has helped challenge the pre-existing hierarchy, and has generated, and aided the accentuation of social turbulence, hostility, conflict and violence. It has yet to explore reliable and democratically tenable modes of change and harmony as the two sides of the same coin, democratic development. In the emerging democracies, the states have failed in translating the democratic vision of promoting economic well being, delivering social justice and ensuring rule of law.

The political leadership in India does not seem to recognise that they are chopping the branches of the same tree that they are perched on.

The positive dynamic of Indian polity deserves reiteration that the Indian polity at its base reflects the democratic ethic of egalitarianism. The problem is the quality of leadership and thus the need of the hour is leadership with a conviction and commitment to the vision of India and the constitutional design i.e. a polity with a focus on human development, and nation-building.

2.4 The process of power

An anarchic condition, even if it is called functional, is the consequence of a clash between the popular urges in favour of liberal democracy and the control exercised by the feudalistic forces in their attempt to wrest and retain “power” at al costs and by all means foul. In a democratic polity, the means justify the ends.

Rule of law is not a means, but acquires critical significance as an end in itself.

Economic stagnation and slide has led to the failure of democracies, and a rise in social turbulence with the consequential emergence of dictatorships in South America during the 1980s. The situation threw up dictators in places of democratic leadership, who in course of time also touted themselves as a the champions of democratic social agenda through popular elections. Peruvians elected Fujimori in 1990 as a protest against democratic governments that had failed the social agenda of the masses. Such a democratically elected leader himself turned a dictator and managed to re-elect himself in 1995. It was another matter that a corruption scandal brought him down. In 2001 Peruvians are still waiting to vote for democracy in the hope of fulfilling their democratic aspirations of equitable growth and development. The Venezuelan experience, next door, is no different. Loss of faith in a four-decade long, tow-party, democracy prompted the people to ‘elect’ a dictator in the hope of securing a social order that is just and equitable.

In Guatemala, Alfonso Portillo a close ally of former dictator Gen Rioss Montt, was elected President. The Supreme Court had ordered Montt to step down on grounds of corruption. Instead of compliance, he defied by threatening to plunge the country into a constitutional crisis.

Such things happened elsewhere, a number of times. In Ecuador, Haiti and Argentina, democracy was thrown out, under conditions of economic turbulence and social trauma. Colombia’s democracy is threatened by guerillas, drug smugglers and right-wing elements.

It is not only that people welcome dictatorships in place of non-or-mal-functional democracies, but also that those elected democratically also exercise power in an authoritarian style.

When democracy, i.e. democratically elected governments, fails to narrow the social divide, it is destabilised by the resultant violence, crime and institutional corruption. That is a potentially critical function of the process of liberalization and free-trade as seen from the third-world. That is what is seen as reemergence of colonialism. Power shifts that create social imbalances are detrimental to democracy.

Mexican writer Carlos Fuertes had stated to the Associated Press : “If democracy doesn’t reduce the economic disparities very soon, there could be a nostalgia for dictatorships”. “If there is no social improvement, democratic institutions will show themselves to be very weak”.

“Power to the people, not to multi-nationals” declared Anti-globalization graffiti on Quebes Walls.

Brazilian theologian Frei Betto cautioned that when “wealth is privatized, poverty gets globalized”.

2.5 Social Transformation

An overview of five decades of planned development reveals that India has attained great economic heights (though not matching its endowment of natural and human resources), but in the process lost its ‘social sights’, the end objectives of economic growth – set around quality of life, which in the Indian ethos as well as in the constitutional vision represents ‘Abhyudaya’, the humanist development. On the contrary, planned development was projected in 000s of Rupees of crores of budgetary allocations, and economic growth measured in terms of GDP as indicators of economic development. There have emerged a series of fallacies, false assumptions and distortions – all of them having an adverse impact on sustainable development on the one hand and sustainability of democratic development on the other. As we have not succeeded in integrating democracy and development, we are witness to, as well as victims of, social turbulence and conflict. We had assumed that development of backward areas would automatically lead to development of people in backward areas, but are proved miserably wrong by the phenomena such as ‘uncontrolled’ mass migration of people endowed with superior knowledge and skills into underdeveloped areas, and large-scale projects located in backward areas with the consequence of mass displacement and distress migration of the ‘local’, ‘rural’ ‘poor’ and the ‘tribal’ communities contributing to, and suffering life in urban slums. This has directly contributed to massive buildup of alienation, social tensions, conflict and recurring violence. Even in regard to access to community resources and basic necessities of life such as drinking water, the process of development has bypassed the rural poor and the tribals. Their lands are alienated, rehabilitation in its qualitative dimensions was not even attempted, and in many cases their villages have been submerged. For their own drinking water needs they have to tread long distances, and be satisfied with water that doesn’t quench their thirst but will bestow all sorts of diseases leading to dance of death. Even in urban areas, where drinking water sources are nurtured, statistics reveal the gross addition of water supply. What the statistics conceal is the fact that the rich use abundance of filtered water even for the toilets and swimming pools while the ‘Bastis’ get drinking water mixed with sewerage matter. If it is the feudal pocket of Bihar, the rich maintain arrives as a tool for protecting themselves against the poor, often mocking the state while taking vengeful action against, and mass killing of, the poor.

While discussing issues of human development, issues of equity such as financial affordability versus availability and accessibility for all; and creation of infrastructure at what cost versus at whose (social)

cost become relevant but hardly considered. When development gets distorted and issues are coloured or get clouded, hostile social relations lead to emergence of phenomena such as ‘Naxalism’. The patterns of economic growth (GDP) Social Development (HDI) and of Gross Social Conflict (GSC) can be illustrated above.

‘Reservations’ were conceived as a measure to gradually reduce disparities and thus move towards equalization. But, the methods and manner of managing reservations by the political parties caught in the competitive bidding for power, suffice to say, the polity has been ‘Mandalised’ – a more appropriate term would be ‘vandalized” or “scandalized”. The polity instead of moving towards an egalitarian society without caste, we have moved from abut 100 castes in 1950, to more than 4,000 castes, by the year 2000; and, more and more castes agitating for backward status. The same about ‘pro-forma’ “secularism” – the country is more communal today than at the starting line. Worse, any one create a spark in society and can affix the labels ‘caste conflict’ or ‘communal’ conflict. Caste, communal, ethnic, regional et al conflicts do not represent mere dots on the map of India in a time series. The flare may be contained or even reduced substantially, but there is nothing like status quo ante. There is a constant aggregation in terms


of attitudes and dispositions, over a period of time, as represented below , which looks like a seismograph.

Indian society today has yet to make a start on the path of creating a sense of citizenship, citizens together making a nation. India is today reduced to a geographical entity where a large number of minorities (religious, caste, linguistic, ethnic, gender et al) make a majority, if there are some ‘citizens’ they are in a hopeless minority. Long standing social conflict cannot sustain a democracy. But when the prime movers of the polity – the political parties and leaders – operate on the premise of ‘conflict’ as the mode of securing and sustaining ‘power’ there are serious challenges before “we the people” who make a nation. The processes of liberalization and globalization have only accentuated the Gross Social Conflict in India.

2.6 Instrumentalities of state and Institutions of Civil Society

The entire network of the instrumentalities of state is organized in terms of (a) ‘legislative’, ‘executive’ and ‘judicial’ on the horizontal plane, and (b) ‘Centre’ ‘State’ and local (Panchayati Raj institutions) on the vertical plane. The multitude of institutions have been assigned, by the Constitution itself, complementary roles (tasks) to be performed with a measure of convergence leading to synergy in the attainment and fulfilment of the common objectives. That was the scheme of the constitutional vision and the mission of democratic governance aimed at promoting social transformation.

The constitutional tasks, roles and objectives assigned to these instrumentalities have been and continue to be seen and managed in terms of “power” which is inherently antithetical. The earliest distortion of ‘power’ into role-conflict was witnessed as a flash-point that took place between the first President and the first Prime Minister. Luckily it was resolved on the basis of personal dispositions rather than in terms of complementary roles and responsibilities, within an overall constitutional balance. Then onwards, all the instrumentalities are caught in a Gordian knot of converting complementary ‘roles’ (and tasks) assigned by the Constitution into ‘power’ with its attendant consequences of hierarchy, inter se supremacy, contempt jurisdictions at the cost of convergence and synergy; harmony and balance, and an ambience of democratic ethic and constitutional culture.

While there emerged an unresolved conflict as between the institutions on the horizontal plane, the other adverse phenomenon was the process of centralization choking the constitutional scheme and the democratic process of peoples’ participation. Centralization as a reality can be summed up in terms of “two-monkeys and a kitten” which is a topsy-turvy analogy of “the monkey and two kittens”. If the Centre-state relations turned adversarial, the status of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) is reduced to subservience where the control of state over PRIs is total. And all this inspite of democratic polity, and the Constitutional provisions.

Conflict has become the mode of political parties, the actors, so are the dispositions of the legislatures. By the very definition, legislatures are designed to take cognizance of conflict of values, competing interests and multiple and overlapping identities of peoples. Articulation and discussion of issues of development, harmonization of these conflicts, of interests and identities is hardly in evidence while formulating policies and enacting legislation. Orientations of ‘power’ have jammed the legislatures, even as peoples’ problems are piling up. The heat of discussions generate fire, not light. Legislatures operate as if numbers is all about democracy Conflict has assumed such proportions that ‘Marshal’ law within the legislatures has become the order of the day, with civilian police being summoned by the Speakers before the commencement of each session, and to the Assembly Halls during the sessions in an attempt to contain violence within the sanctified precincts. During the 21st century, the ‘role’ model of democracy’ has degenerated to a point where political and electoral reform, have become crucial for democracy in India.

The deformed political process has its own disastrous impact on the functional relations between the legislature and the executive on the one hand, and the legislature and judiciary on the other. The relations between the ministers and civil servants, as one dominant aspect of legislature – executive relations are no where harmonious but are growing into situations of conflict and confrontation.1 That the executive does not comply with the judicial orders, signifying “the end of the rule of law” is expressed by the Supreme Court itself.

Though the Constitution has explicitly stipulated that it is the role of the judiciary to interpret the letter of the Constitution and to enforce the Rule of Law -, apart from an advisory role when approached, the judiciary has responded to Public outcry in the form of public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the political, legislative and executive institutions and thus saved the Republic from anarcy, But, the political and executive leadership instead of taking remedial measures rapidly, have only started harping against judicial intervention, dubbing it as judicial extremism and adventurism. There is a dangerous deadlock. The assumed and asserted inter-se “supremacy” of the judiciary also has contributed to serious proportions of institutional conflict in India. Some of the institutions such as the Tribal Advisory Councils (TACs) also get afflicted by the political malignancy.

Partly arising from the distortions in the management of legislative institutions, and partly out of a misplaced perception and projection that the judiciary is ‘supreme’, the debate has generated a critical mass of conflict which is yet to be resolved. In the popular perceptions as well as stated by the political leadership the judiciary is also afflicted by the several malignancies in the body politic. The institutions of judiciary and their accountability have to be scrutinized within the scheme of complementarity and commonality, in promoting harmony and convergence as between the instrumentalities of the Constitution.

Conflict gets flared up when the role-relationships are seen in terms of ‘power’, the debate gets twisted in terms of a ‘strong’ centra versus ‘strong’ states. In the federal context. It is not that if one tier is strong the other tier gets weak, it is only when the centre, state and the PRIs operate together that the nation, remains and grows strong.

Unless the inter-se ‘power’ equations are realigned in terms of role-relationships, it is the Constitution, and its sovereign source the people that get afflicted; it is not a distinct probability, it is a current reality as the debate on a ‘second’ constitution, ‘presidential form’, ‘limited dictatorship’ and other visible manifestations of anarchy reveal. In the inter se institutional power struggle, when the players play foul, the Constitution itself has provided a set of in-built ‘umpiring’ roles/positions such as the Speakers of legislatures, the governors, the higher judiciary, esp the Supreme Court as the final arbiter (interpreter and adviser) of the Constitution. Most important of all, and above all, it is the President who is the protector and defender of the Constitutional Republic. India has suffered the greatest conflict in the aggregate as many of these umpires had failed or worse played foul, and even the national legislature (by its commissions and omissions), had enervated the President of India.

The citizens of India by their resilience have provided the correctives on many an occasion. But, the institutions which sought to protect their own privileges through an ill-defined set of norms, have expanded their contempt jurisdiction, choking the democracy. Today, the Indian Republic is in need of a legislative provision covering ‘contempt of the citizen’.

The prevailing nature of confrontation and conflict growing as between the instrumentalities of state is reflected in terms of centre Vs. state, legislature Vs. judiciary, generalists Vs. specialists, IAS Vs. IPS and most virulent of all viz., citizen versus state. The urgent need to focus on citizen in the Indian Republic assumes significance not only due to the malfunctioning of the institutions, but the probability of the nation being washed away in the tsunami of corruption leading to violent conflict and anarchy. The virus is so inter nise and rapidly spreading all over, it is like the doctors catching the deadly virus.

The institutions of civil society have emerged the champions of peoples’ participation, empowerment, equitable development, and in the aggregate as the bulwark of democracy and development. When they perform such a central role and also seek to provide correctives to the institutions of state, quite logically, in the face of increasing crescendo of conflict in society, some of them assume the role of agents of rights extremists.

2.7 Internal-External continuum

When there is a wide spread internal strife and conflict afflicting the body politic, such a situation – a sick polity provides the ideal conditions for the external factors such as the ISI, LTTE and what not, and how can anyone blame them when they play their legitimate role? Equally, if not more, a critical dimension of this internal-external continuum is that issues that are considered purely internal to India get spread and operate as external pressures that can exacerbate internal conflict. The remedy lies in containing the internal distortions and factors of conflict, and in promoting harmony and peace as integral part, or even as the prerequisite of development.

It is the inability or reluctance of the state to harmonize competing and conflicting values, identities and interests that led to civil disorder and anarchy in many a paradise on this planet. A deadlock in the national legislatures leading to its ineffectiveness, thus, could spill over and trigger civil war. It is under such ground conditions extra-national identities and loyalties expand the frontiers as to geo-politicize and internationalize internal strife, involving several states across continents, ending up in the portals of the United Nations.

2.8 Ekam Sath Vipra Bahuda Vadanti

Factors and manifestations may be many but all of them together, like tributaries of a mighty river, contribute to the Gross Social Conflict in India. If social conflict is not managed adequately, appropriately and in good time, it can become the single most man-made disaster, devastating the democratic character of India. A failure on this front can make a case study on ‘disastrous management’.

3.0 Dynamics of Gross Social Conflict

Factors of conflict do not normally operate in isolation, but emerge as a consequence of distortions in the management of change – it emerges as a challenge of change. Conflict is also manufactured and fallacious labels superimposed on problems at the micro-level. If a boy misbehaves with a girl, it is not seen as a pure and simple problem of law and order, but projected as an inter-caste or as a communal problem depending on their caste/religious identity. As an adjunct to it, local issues are not localised, but expanded, in a rapid spread as a global problem.

In a potential situation of conflict, perceptions, prejudices and fears rather than verifiable facts that shape the behaviour of people. That is where media, and propaganda spin the rumour-mill.

Often, actions initiated as solutions to the resolution of conflict lead to the accentuation of conflict. This is especially so where the policy formulation pursues legislated solutions. Legislated measures tend to kill popular mobilization by the civil society.

Legislative measures tend to reverse the balance between groups seemingly engaged in conflict – such as making “dowry” “harassment” and caste-discriminative offences – aggravate social conflict.

Whatever may be the range of dynamics of social conflict, no measure can restore a status quo ante, as every episode irrespective of its magnitude, contributes to the aggregation of conflicts assuming the character of historical (eg. fraction politics) and civilizational (crusade-jihad) phenomenon.

4.0 Monitoring and Measurement of Gross Social Conflict

Gross Social Conflict can be described as the aggregated quantum of social-psychological stress, tension, hostility, conflict and violence, obtaining in any society, or a segment, at any particular point of time, or an average over a period of time such an aggregated measure of conflict would enable an assessment of the patterns and levels of change, if any, over a period of time. Gross Social Conflict (GSC) can be quantified, measured and indexed, as in the case of Cost of Living Index, GDP, HDI and other indices.

Conflict in any society may emanate from (a) the substantial as well as the processual dimensions of change; (b) latent as well as manifest; and (c) from the micro to the macro levels. As of multiple causation, as in the case of any facet of societal dynamics, such factors can be graded as (a) the casual (primary), (b) contributory (secondary) and (c) remote (or tertiary) which operate in an interdependent manner, which also reveals their concurrent operation.

A fascinating processual characteristic of social conflict is that the various factors operate as in the case of the movement of tectonic plates with their varying size, density, pace of movement, together contributing to the magnitude of tremors, earth quakes, and Tsunamis.

A crescendo of social conflict creates conditions of social disruption of such a nature and in such a manner that no amount of mitigative, or remedial measures of management can restore a status quo ante. Every tremor caused by any social conflict, leaves some measure of ‘irreparable’ and non-reversible damage that adds to the aggregation of Gross Social Conflict.

In such a dynamic scenario attempt to measure conflict calls for the classification of factors in three situation specific dimensions viz. (a) (multiple) causation, (b) (varying) intensity, and (c) four levels of data – individual, group, societal and global. Thus measurement of conflict warrants a wide range of data, both qualitative and quantitative, macro as well as micro.

4.1 Factors of Multiple causation

Social conflict is a consequence of complex social phenomena and dynamics. It would be fallacious to explain conflict in terms of any single causal factor. Naxalism for eg. in contemporary times, emerges as the most appropriate example to recognize such a complexity, and persistence of the phenomena - expanding in territorial term and growing in its intensity, defying a solution because of the non-recognition of its complex reality – an interwoven maze of political, economic, socio-cultural and governance factors. The debate is razing as to Naxalism as the cause or consequence, it is a law and order problem et al. The ‘elephant’ is not perceived in its entirity. Multiple causality of any and every conflict has to be recognized inorder to develop a method of measurement.

4.2 Flux in Intensity

The intensity of any social conflict obtains, almost always, in a state of flux – like in a cyclone, volcano or an earth-quake – ranging from dormant, latent state (“sleeping giant”) to an active state, like a volcano that destroys everything that lies in its path. There are triggers that convert the latent to an active state of conflict, like heat that converts solid into a liquid or vapour. It is the multiplicity of causal factors and triggers leading to a cyclical relationship between the causes and consequences.

4.3 Levels of Data

The causal factors of social conflict can be measured at four levels, forming a continuum from the micro to the macro, though not all specific instances of conflict may involve all the four levels. These four levels are : (a) individual (values, perceptions, attitudes [dispositions] and behaviour); (b) micro social groups such as neighbour-hoods; (c) macro groups such as consumers, students, youth, trade-unions, gender, caste/community groups et al and (their identities, interests) rights etc.; (d) mega social groups, based on diverse identities (social distances, based on endogenous or exogamous alignments, their inter-se fears and prejudices) (e) factors of mal-governance), and finally,  (f) ‘global’ factors that cut across national boundaries such as discrimination, based on ethnicity, religion, minorities-majorities, access to resources such as water, petroleum, and other minerals, consumption patterns leading to environmental degradation and threat of disasters, and markets et al).

This continuum of factors have been analysed often in isolation and reported. But what is needed inorder to measure ‘Gross Social Conflict’ in any society on a continuing basis is a method of aggregation so as to facilitate monitoring and management.

5.0 Resolution and Management of Conflict

As in the case of cholesterol which is delineated in relation to the human, physiology, into the positive HDL and the ‘harmful’ (negative) LDL certain categories and upto some degrees of stress and level of tension in the minds of individuals, and competition operate as a spur to creativity and pace of change and development. As democracy seeks to promote the levels of awareness, empowerment and participation reducing levels of inequalities and inequities, it generates some amount of tensions adding to gross conflict in the society. GSC depends upon demand for acceleration of change, as much as resistance to such change – and in the process of reconciling and harmonizing such change by promoting the ‘overarching’ democratic values, good governance. It can thus be seen that the nature and degree of integrating democracy and development as two sides of the same coin operates as a positive factor. However, the distortions in the process of development can transform the ‘positive’ into ‘negative’ factors of change adding to the GSC.

It can be hypothesized [in fact has been demonstrated, time and again, in the Indian ground conditions] that the tribal communities in the remote and isolated areas had lived under ‘tranquil’ (or static) conditions. But when they were exposed to contact, through influx of non-tribals [as a part of the process of development] there emerged varying conditions of stress, hostile dispositions and conflict, with attendant consequences. As democratic process does not leave any option but to ‘citizenize’ the tribals, by delivering them from illiteracy, malnutrition and subhuman conditions of life democracy should facilitate their transformation sans any attendant consequential trauma. That is the challenge and process of management of change in a pluralist society trying to transform itself from the status of the largest democracy to that of a great democracy. Management of conflict is the basic challenge of management of change. It can be seen, analysed and projected in a variety of modes. One way of looking at the management of conflict, as attempted here, falls into five-fold clusters, which operate in an inter-dependent manner.

5.1 Deepening Democracy

Democracy is not a uni-molecular entity; it represents a wide range of attributes such as ‘decentralization of structures of power, participation of individuals not merely in casting a vote once in a while, but involvement in decision-making in all matters concerning the community, a high degree of membership of the polity society as citizens, on equal terms.

Some of the contra-indicators of democracy are a sense of deprivation, marginalization, inequities, and alienation. The overarching values of democracy provide several mechanisms to contain GSC and promote harmony and peace. Democratic dialogue and its consensual mode help harmonize and balance the conflict of interest in promoting and sustaining ‘peace’ not merely as the pre-requisite but as the integral part of development.

Liberal democratization is a process that involves, in the first place, the shedding-off of the drag factors of democracy, especially so in the case of those countries and communities that had a historical hangover of colonialism and a feudalistic social order. Then and only then can the ethos and processes of liberal democracy be ushered in and institutionalized.

Level playing field and a middle path represent a desideratum for liberal democratic social transformation.

Violence breeds violence almost on a universal basis. Social conflict and violence often leads to violent methods on the part of the state-especially if the authority of state is based on autocracy or military dictatorship. But, social conflict offers the greatest challenge to a democratic state, for the state has to maintain an eternal vigilance on the drag-factors and distortions of democratic development and governance, and dissolve them democratically, in terms of socio-legal engineering. This calls for crystalization, adherence, promotion and sustenance of an overarching set of norms and values. But there is no ‘democratic-mode’ to fight, anti-democratic forces that might emerge from within or operate from across national boundaries. This is the overarching democratic rationale for the Homeland Security Act put in place by the united states of America; and the Terrorist A D Act in India. It is the democratic dissonance that had led to its abrogation, not based on the desirability and need for such a legislation but the fascicle argument that it may be misused and abused. Nascent and developing democracies have to recognize that social conflict is not inevitable and that it can always be resolved before it turns malignant. Apportioning blame, fault-finding and adopting ‘conflict’ as the mode to acquire and sustain political power represent anti-indicators of harmony, and the seeds of conflict assuming the proportions of tensions, break-down of law and order, and active violence such a democratic slide, anarchic slide to be precise leads to the institutions of conflict resolution atrophied and getting trapped in the maelstrom of conflict, as vividly illustrated in India, in the form of inquiry by the CBI or a judicial commission, manned by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, or as is being witnessed of late, a House-Committee. Partisan-Political process negates the efficacy, ab initio, of all such mechanisms.

5.2 Responsive and Responsible Political Process

The political process which was focussed on ‘service’ to the people (and quality of life) and consensualism during the freedom movement and in the framing of the Constitution as the grand blue-print for people-centered democracy, harmonious development, and good governance, has shifted its focus to ‘power’ and ‘pelf’, turned political process malignant. In their competitive drive for power, they have adopted ‘conflict’ as their mode. Vote-bank is an understatement. Politicians and political parties have fragmented the caste, community, language, region, ethnicity, gender et al the fractured society and accentuated the Gross Social Conflict. After attaining political freedom, India is at war with itself. Legislatures which are designed to articulate peoples’ problems and formulate policies promoting harmony are dead-locked due to partisan interests, generating extremes of conflict. Instead of providing the basic requirements of drinking water, health-care, livelihoods leading to self esteem and responsible citizenship, the ‘show’ of conflict is converted into ‘road-shows’ and ‘water-wars’ where citizens are pitted against citizens. This all-pervasive malignancy is reflected while designing and operating institutions such as the National Integration Council where in the name of ‘representation’ to all ‘groups’, such institutions are reduced to a counter-functional status, accentuating the conflict instead of promoting social integration.

There have been a large number of efforts in identifying aspects of political reform – what is needed is action, which is missing. Reform agenda pushed under the carpet can aggravate conflict and create political tremors. A sure sign of loss of credibility is the disdain for political leadership that has eroded the faith in democracy and democratic politics. Undemocratic, anti-democratic and other modes of acquiring power (the barrel, bullet, extremism, et al) which generate frustration ‘Politics with morality’ is the prescription for democratic development.

5.3 Good Governance

Good governance is not measured by (a) the dress-code of political executive (remember Gandhi’s words who admonished the politicians that if democracy doesn’t respond to peoples problems and democratic urges, they will “pick up the white-capped ones”), (b) the mighty edifices of govt. buildings, (c) the information technology and e-governance per se. In a democracy, people measure the institutions and processes of governance on the basis of access, response-time, transparency, accountability, service orientation and the like. In reality, any overview suggests that, in the words of those who have some knowledge of and experience with the governance under the British rule, the White Sahebs are far better than today’s Brown Sahebs. In fact, the Indian state has witnessed an enormous build-up of a Pantheon of institutions, physical growth of the mammoth with unbearable financial burden, apart from corruption which is engulfing the Republic. Yet, the Indian state has failed in developing citizenship.7 First one has to contain this adversity and conflict between the demos and democratic governance before building up positive, functional relationships and dispositions. It is only then that a positive ethos can be thought of for eg. in terms of shaping the police as the channel for human rights education, in place of adversary relations that generate fright among the people while visiting a police station.

It is by promoting an ethos of political morality and consensual mode (all-party?), a mission-mode of governance, Justice orientation in the court system that one can contain citizen-hostility and promote and sustain a democratic polity. ‘Democratization’ of the police is a sine qua non for the police to be able to play a positive role in ushering of democratic social order.

5.4 Democratic Development

Democracy is certainly not a mere mode of governance but a way of life. India has to move from a highly centralized polity towards a widely participative democracy not only as a means but as integral to development. Liberalization and democratization sweeping the world including India should provide the thrust to liberal democracy. One imperative is the debureaucratization of Panchayati Raj Institutions, local market yards, cooperatives, setting up of Nyaya Panchayats and community-policing units.

The political, economic, social and cultural elements of change are interdependent and concurrent, not sequential. One consequence of not fusing them is the divergence in the growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in inverse proportion to the Human Development Index (HDI) with the consequence of rapid increase in the Gross Social Conflict (GSC).

5.5 Institutions of Civil Society

Distortions of democracy, political malignancy, mal-development and sick governance on the one hand, and the legitimate role of civil society/institutions in the management of development on the other have contributed to the emergence of institutions of civil society. Yet a parallel ‘development’ is that these institutions have also been affected and afflicted by the over all conflict in the society. Corporatization of medical profession represents an apt example. Other noble professionals like teachers, journalists are also caught in the cobweb of professional conflict where a sick-state seeks to shape the role of the civil society.

Social Audit Methodologies, Vigilance and truly professionalized groups, have to make critical contributions to the containment of conflict and promotion of harmony and peace.


1. For a detailed consideration, refer Dr. GRS Rao, Managing a Vision, Kalpaz, New Delhi, 2004 Pp.173-218. 2. The Hindu, Chennai.      Sat April 2, 2005 P-1


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

              Astha Bharati