Recent Developments and Debates in Local Governments in India
Local self-government has been a recurring theme in the conceptualization and the realization of democracy in India. While Gandhi and several socialists leaders visualized a decentralized India with a self-regulating village economy and politics, Independent India’s ruling Congress party and its first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, suggested an instrumental role for local government institutions, knows as Panchayats (a council of five elders) in the traditional village India, to implement the planned strategy of simultaneously pursuing growth and equity goals. Under the latter scenario, while the state’s precious resources were diverted to the building of an industrial sector, the local governments through their participatory mobilized practices were intended not only to change the state and local sphere of civil society but also to modernize agriculture and to generate equity in the existing feudal agrarian structure. Failure of this strategy, coupled with slow economic growth in both the agrarian and the industrial sectors, pushed the agenda for the local governments onto a back burner. During the past four decades, India has largely addressed its problems of agricultural growth. While abandoning its rural equity goals that were to be promoted through land reforms, it has pursued specific policies targeting the removal of entrenched poverty. It is, however, India’s slow-paced and limited achievements in dealing with massive rural poverty which have led to the revival of the Panchayts and the granting of a constitutional status to these local institutions.
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