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The Restructuring our polity: The Gram Sabha-centric village Panchayats

Date: July11, 2013

by Shiva Kant Jha

History tells us that the decentralization of powers makes a polity participative, accountable and shared. The best way to organize our polity is by an amalgam of the right measure of 'decentralization' through the rural republics that the Panchayati Raj aims to establish, and by the legitimate and purposive centrality through our federal structure: both to be integrated to work symbiotically with the strong central government, itself under strong constitutional restraints. It is easy to see  how this model of political restructuring is in tune with our people's genius, and our long and rich traditions. The structure of our polity should be so designed as to make our villages the grass-root matrix of our economy, and the effective units in our democratic organization. Gandhi had told us in course of our Struggle for Freedom:

“Independence must begin at the bottom. Thus, village will be a Republic or panchaayat having full powers. It follows, therefore, that every village has to be self-sustained and capable of managing its affairs even to the extent of defending itself against the whole world.” ( Harijan 1-7- ’47)
This vision was expressed by our Constitution in: its Article 40 says --

“The State shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.”

The Gram Sabha of the villages, and the Lok Sabha of our country, are essentially 'deliberative' assemblies'. The skill that can be learnt from the right functioning of the Gram Sabhas would surely stand us in good stead when our representatives go to function in our Parliament, and in other similar bodies. The Panchayat would provide a close and inter-active world for integrated cordial actions, where the participants can themselves see that what they reap are only the consequences of what they do.

The 'decentralization of powers', through Panchayats, would establish nearness between the wielders of power, and the people under their care. The absence of such a close bond between people and the government would always imperil 'democracy'. J. Bronowski had aptly said in his The Ascent of Man (p. 435):

"We must not perish by the distance between people and government, between people and power, by which Babylon and Egypt and Rome failed. And that distance can only be conflated, can only be closed, if knowledge sits in the homes and heads of people with no ambition to control others, and not up in the isolated seats of power."

If the Panchayati Raj works to set up vibrant village republics, great socio-psychological changes would be brought about under our polity and governance. The possibilities of this great experiment in the decentralization of powers were recognised early. Our leaders had great expectations from these indigenous and village-centric political experiments. Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have rightly noticed that the " implicit belief, expressed in some writings, that government interventions are, by and large, guided by the demands of social progress is surely a gigantic folly." They have recognised what can be done best: to supplement 'reforms' with a more active programme of social change going "hand in hand with an expansion of public initiative and social movements aimed at more widespread literacy, a stronger political organization of disadvantaged groups, and a more vigorous challenge to social inequalities, they would represent a real opportunity to transform village politics in rural India." It is possible to develop good education in the villages only after involving the grass roots level institutions. I would endorse the view of Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze: "In most states, teachers are accountable to the Education Department, not to the village community. Official complaints have to go through complicated bureaucratic channels, and are particularly difficult for parents to understand.....". "Reforming the chain of accountability, and bringing the levers of control closer to the village community, are important means of improving teaching standards." Socio-economic measures can work better if they are conducted under the local vigilance, supervision, control and audit. The authorities at the higher structural levels should only help, and supervise.

This system would make the Right to Know, granted under our Constitution, more effective. Besides the participative political process would give our people the satisfaction of discharging public duties, and would also help them develop their skill better. We find in our villages many persons illiterate, but they are not unwise. I feel it is the time to trust our villagers' wisdom. They are loyal to our country, and are patriotic: they are under no temptations to steal our country's wealth to carry that to the tax havens and other dark destinations abroad. Let us structure our polity by giving it a creative touch best done by reposing trust in people.

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