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

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Creating New Civic Culture

Creating New Civic Culture

Local Democracy and Development People's Campaign for Decentralised Planning in Kerala by T M Thomas Isaac with Richard W Franke; Left Word Books, New Delhi, 2000; pp 353, paperback, no price given.

This insider’s account of the local-government reforms in Kerala since 1996 represents a remarkable break with the past. Thomas Isaac, the principal author, is the ‘member-in-charge of decentralisation’ (p xii) on the Kerala State Planning Board and an architect of the reforms. Not surprisingly, he is associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Left Democratic Front coalition government it has led since 1996. This is not, however, the self-justifying, ‘thunder out of Pravda’ book that one would have expected from earlier generations of CPI(M) writers. Rather, it is a frank, sometimes disarmingly critical, account of a ‘training/empowerment programme’ that Isaac, and his co-author Richard Franke, believe is without “international parallel... in...the scale of participation [and]...the diversity of topics covered...” (p 309). Indeed, Isaac claims that in 1996-97 two million of Kerala’s 30 million people were involved in planning the programmes of the new panchayats (p 321).

What has been happening in Kerala? No less, Isaac argues, than an attempt to create ‘a new civic culture’ (p 11) by transforming “existing state institutions into empowered deliberative bodies” (p 6). But why should such a transformation be necessary for ‘the Kerala model’? It is, after all, so often extolled for having brought notable improvement in the lives of large numbers of relatively poor people without red, green or industrial revolutions.

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