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The first part maps civil society in Asia, exploring the range of non-governmental actors which exist, and which contribute to the struggle for democratic change or obstruct it.While civil society is a useful locus to explore this contest, given that it is internally divided, we need to analyse constituent elements separately for their relationship to the state, and for their democratic potential.
For Hegel, for instance, the bureaucracy and corporations were part of civil society as against the ethical state.
A political economy approach locates civil society in the sphere of property and thereby class, as against the claimed universalism of citizenship in the political sphere (Marx 1977).
Civil society is not always civil (see debate between Alexander 2008 and Turner 2008).
For instance, the LTTE (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) while standing for the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils against the indifference of the Sri Lankan state, also had fascist characteristics, and snuffed out opposition.
The level of freedoms that define democracy – for instance, the separation of powers, freedom of press, the nature of fundamental rights – also vary widely within the continent.
Many of the states have been victims of colonial rule, though how this has impacted their polity and civil society varies widely.
The second half of the article focuses on India, attempting to show, through one particular case study, the prospects and problems for democracy.
The term ‘civil society’ has been defined in several ways : the most common understanding is of civil society as an intermediate sphere between indiv-idual/family and state, though the exact ingredients of this sphere vary (see Kumar 1993 ; Calhoun 1993 ; Chandoke 1995).
For Tocqueville, civil society was a space of voluntary association which replaced primordial community ; properly speaking, it was the base for political society, defined as government of the people (see Kumar 1993).
For Gramsci, civil society was the arena where consent was elicited rather than coercion exercised, but in either case it was not separate from the state (Anderson 1977) ; while for Habermas, civil society is represented by the public sphere, where deliberation and reason, rather than ascription or inherited ideas dominate (Calhoun 1993).