ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Phoney Decentralisation

THE elaborate charade is drawing to a close. After the series of so-called workshops with district magistrates and collectors, the conferences of state chief secretaries and secretaries to the government of India, the jamborees in different parts of the country of representatives of panchayati raj institutions, the meeting of state panchayati raj ministers in Gandhinagar and, finally, the conference of chief ministers in New Delhi this week which the prime minister, with the self- congratulatory hyperbole which has become so much the mark of his style, described as a "historic occasion", the stage is now set for the introduction in parliament next week of the Constitution (64th Amendment) Bill dealing with panchayati raj. That over large parts of the country the panchayati raj system is indeed in urgent need of revamping is a proposition on which there will be general agreement. In a number of states the holding of regular elections to panchayati raj institutions has definitely become the exception rather than the rule. Again, with the exception of a few states, panchayati raj agencies have become moribund in the rest of the country and, even within the severe limits set by the prevailing property and power relations in the rural areas, hardly function as institutions of democracy at the lowest levels. That despite these facts the prime minister's campaign to reform the panchayati raj system has been received with widespread cynicism and suspicion is a measure of the loss of credibility he has suffered and the well deserved reputation for deviousness he has acquired. This is not to say that the prime minister and his advisers will not be able to ram through the constitution amendment bill in the monsoon session of parliament. Given the large and docile majority that he enjoys in parliament, there should be little difficulty about that.

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