Are Non-Governmental Organizations angels of hope, helping build more civic societies and strengthening democracies across the world? Or are they associations of vested interests, operating beyond democratic accountability? The debate becomes relevant in the context of the Third World, where the proliferation of NGOs has been coupled with a shrinking state. The Indian case is particularly interesting since the state has overtly taken upon itself the role of a friendly patron, while remaining suspicious of foreign funding and the political fallout of civic activism.
This paper examines the issue of NGO accountability in the Indian context. The issue is complicated due to diversity of organizational styles, multiplicity of audiences and clients, discrediting of the top-down, book keeping styles of accountability and the absence of an alternative approach as well as the unwillingness of the scholarly and activist community to subject this sector to scrutiny for fear of governmental interference. A fresh perspective is offered here, that looks at accountability in terms of goal setting, participation, outreach and leadership. It emphasizes the need to have strong institutions at every level of state and society, which can help strengthen accountability of each other in stead of promoting one at the expense of the other. Further, this study attempts to place NGO accountability within the state-civil society debate.