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INFOCUS | INDIA-CHINA | LOCAL SELF GOVERNMENT

Grass with no roots Local governments in India and China

|10| India-China Chronicle  March-April 2011

Neither in China will harmony prevail, nor in India inclusive growth occur unless we have in both countries a much higher measure of people’s involvement in the building of their own lives. Mani Shankar Aiyar

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ocal self-government in India is itself such a fascinating subject that one wonders about the need to examine the Indian model in comparison to the Chinese model, especially since there appears to be little in common between the origins of local government as an imperative of good governance in the two countries; the national political context in which the endeavour is being pursued; the purposes which are sought to be attained; and the long-term consequences that are likely to follow. Hence, less for comparison than for contrast, such an exercise might be attempted. While in India, the need for Panchayat Raj was articulated by Mahatma Gandhi on the eve of Independence in the context of democratising both the polity and society as the sine qua non for the empowerment of the weakest and the progress of the poorest, the origins of the present model of local government in China lie in a people’s response to the challenge of the anarchical conditions that prevailed in the wake of the chaos engendered by the Cultural Revolution and the high-level political decision to abandon collectivisation and communes as the path to rural resurgence. This proposition requires further elaboration. Asked about the “India of my Dreams,” Mahatma Gandhi summed up his vision for India after Independence in the following words: “I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country, in whose making they have an effective voice.” Please note the stress on empowerment – “effective voice” – as the key to participative development, to ensuring that the poorest feel “it is their country.” Gandhiji went on to advocate elected village governments as the basis of all democracy – going

so far, indeed, as to suggest that there be no direct elections at any level other than the village level for he foresaw that the higher the level at which votes were sought, the larger the scope for muscle power and money power to de-legitimise the process. (And who can say he was wrong?!) So convinced was he of the need for what we now call “subsidiarity” that he advocated “village republics” – his phrase – where the village community would be empowered to look after virtually all its needs, with the ethical coda that development policy would be limited

the villagers of a small village in Anhui Province started an experiment among themselves with eighteen of the most enterprising and daring placing their thumb impressions on a pledge to organise themselves to meeting basic human needs rather than be driven by the mad scramble for more and more and yet more. Unsurprisingly, the less idealisticallydriven, more practical men of eminence (with a scattering of women) who constituted the Founding Fathers of our Constitution (there were few Founding Mothers) were unimpressed and since Gandhiji was, in any case, no longer around, conspired, overtly and covertly, to give his vision the quietus and get on with modern nationbuilding. Panchayat Raj was, thus, sidelined into a couple of lines in the (unenforceable) Directive Principles of State policy and firmly placed in the State List of Schedule VII as falling entirely within the jurisdiction of State legislatures, with the Centre having no role in promoting or even facilitating

local government. Yet, the seeds sown by Gandhiji’s far acuter perception of India’s basic requirements were to sprout within a decade. However, before we come to that, let us take a look at the origins of China’s current thrust to local government. Of course, like India, China too through the turbulent millennia of its highly sophisticated civilization and complex evolution to contemporary nationhood had had in place institutions of village governance that retained their essential character whatever the complexion of governance (or non-governance) at higher levels of State administration. In the decades preceding the Chinese communist revolution, it had, of course, been much more a period of non-governance than governance, and Chairman Mao seems to have been content to leave village administration much as it was in the initial decade after the Revolution while concentrating on installing altogether newer highly centralised and authoritarian single party governance at the Centre and in the Provinces. But once the Revolution was consolidated at the higher echelons of governance, he launched the programme of communes and collectivization which placed all power - political, social and economic - in the hands of Party cadres to the exclusion of all others. This led inexorably to the Cultural Revolution which traumatised the nation. After his death in 1976, China under Deng Xiaoping moved towards a radical reorganisation of both the polity and the economy (while retaining strict hegemony for the Party over all aspects of national life). In the anarchy that followed at the grassroots level where the extant systems of communes and collectives were being dismantled with no clear alternatives being put in place, the villagers of a small village in Anhui Province started an experiment among themselves with eighteen of the most enterprising and daring placing their

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thumb impressions on a pledge to organise themselves for themselves, thus pioneering the Villagers’ Committee (note: not Village Committees) that constitute the foundation of the system that has now come to characterise local government in contemporary China. After concluding that the Anhui venture was worth replicating around the country, China initially introduced an Organic Law in 1987 permitting of a trial period to watch the working out of a systematic form of elected local government, principally among Party cadres and committed to continued Party dominance, but aimed at responding in some measure to the need for providing public goods and services to the people, which also provided employment and, more important, entrepreneurial opportunities for Party cadres and local units of the ubiquitous People’s Liberation Army. The system was spectacularly successful in certain key respects, although deeply disturbing in other respects – both of which we shall consider presently – but sufficiently encouraging for incorporation in China’s Constitution and the adoption of an Organic Law at the 16th Congress in 1998 to universalise the system. In India, rather than go down the path charted by Mahatma Gandhi, rural reconstruction and resurgence started with the top-down, bureaucraticallydriven Community Development Programme (CDP) which while revolutionary for its time fell well short

Only Empowerment will lead to Entitlements, and only Empowerment and Entitlements will together lead to Enrichment – the three Es to be achieved through the three Fs. Short of that happening, India will prosper but Indians will not of the participative democratic model of Gandhiji’s “India of my Dreams.” But as a precursor of what was to come, the CDP was both unprecedented and historic, perhaps the world’s first experiment in consciously fostering inclusive village development in consultation with and with the involvement of the local community. It also put in place an administrative legacy based on development “blocks” – as distinct from revenue circles – headed by Block Development Officers who, for their time, constituted a dramatic departure from the practices of colonial officialdom who concerned themselves mainly with land revenue collection – the mainstay of British India’s finances - and law and order, but not State-sponsored development. (The downside is that the new administrative structures and bureaucracy spawned by the CDP have since become a principal stumbling block in effectively realising

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the goals of genuine Panchayat Raj. But we are running ahead of our story). While, therefore, the CDP was forging ahead and gaining kudos at both the national level and internationally, a Study Group was set up under the chairmanship of a renowned Gandhian, Balwantrai Mehta, whose Report in 1957 must rank as the decisive, pathbreaking moment in the endeavour for inclusive governance through grassroots democracy for grassroots development. Jawaharlal Nehru promptly proceeded to urge all States, all of whom were then under Congress governments (bar Kerala, which ironically has since become India’s premier Panchayat Raj state – “History has,” indeed, as T.S. Eliot said, “many cunning passages!”) to proceed full steam ahead towards legislating the Balwantrai Mehta model of local self-government and holding elections to duly empowered units of local self-governance. He himself lit the lamp of Panchayat Raj at Nagore in Rajasthan, the constituency headquarters of CDP Minister, S.K. Dey, on Gandhi Jayanti 1959, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi in fitting tribute to the intellectual, moral and spiritual fount of inclusive growth through inclusive governance in independent India. But with Pandit Nehru’s passing away in 1964, Panchayat Raj withered on the vine and was in a total state of disrepair when the first non-Congress national government in India, led by Morarji Desai, took office in 1977. An early step of this government was the constitution of the Asoka Mehta committee to look into issues of local self-government, but even as the Committee submitted its report two years later the Morarji government fell, yet not before the Committee recommended a Constitutional amendment to incorporate Panchayat Raj as a Constitutional and, hence, ineluctable imperative of our system of governance. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (1984-89) initially explored managerial measures to secure “responsive administration” as a principal goal of governance, but then concluded that managerial measures

would not do, that a root-and-branch systemic revolution was needed: that “responsive administration” could only be secured through “representative administration” which would be “responsible” to the community that elected it. To this end, the Asoka Mehta recommendation for Constitutional status, sanctity and sanction to democratically elected Panchayat Raj Institutions was revived and the draft Constitutional amendment prepared by L.M. Singhvi and annexed to the Asoka Mehta Committee report was elaborated and placed before Parliament on 15 May 1989, at about the same time as China started its trial experiments in their form of local government. (I had the privilege of being the Prime Minister’s principal points-man in drafting the Constitution amendment and later the country’s first Panchayat Raj minister). However, our amendment did not pass Parliamentary muster during Rajiv Gandhi’s term, but was subsequently passed, with some amendments, by Parliament in December 1992 virtually unanimously. At about the same time, the tentative Anhui experiment had blossomed over much of China and China started readying for its Constitutional amendment and the elaboration of its Organic Law. The two endeavours are, therefore, roughly comparable in time but the paths they are following are so different that it is contrast, as I said earlier, rather than comparison that brings out their respective characteristics. The most obvious difference is that local self-government in India is designed to reinforce our vibrant, multi-party democracy while China’s design principally results in reinforcing the one-Party nature of their State. Most candidates in Chinese local body elections are well recognised Party cadres and the voter’s choice is generally restricted to choosing between Party leaders rather than veering towards multiple choice based on ideological differentiation and alternative goals. Yet, while multiple choice among Party leaders in China at the local level does induce a greater measure of responsiveness to the local electorate in the interest of re-election,

even non-Party elections to the lowest tier of governance in India – the village panchayat – do tend to reinforce rather than undermine multi-party rivalry as the essence of our democracy. But precisely because of the interweaving of Party and Government in China, including at the County, Township and Villagers’ Committee levels, problems of devolution encountered in practice in India are hardly to be found in China. In consequence, local government in India tends to be more representative, but local government in China tends to be more effective. First, let us consider representativeness. In terms of the numbers entrusted with the responsibility of running local government, India and China are roughly comparable, the larger number in China reflecting the larger rural population, in absolute numbers, in that country. However, the number of village units is rather larger because China’s Villagers’ Committees tend to

The two endeavours are, therefore, roughly comparable in time but the paths they are following are so different that it is contrast, as I said earlier, rather than comparison that brings out their respective characteristics

represent single habitations, whereas in India State governments are free to bunch together habitations into a single village panchayat. While the rationale for this is that in densely populated areas, it makes functional sense to have larger village units, in practice the larger the village unit the wider is the spread between the electorate and the elected representative, the principal cause of the polity being permeated with what Rajiv Gandhi in his Congress centenary speech memorably called “the brokers of power.” On the other hand, village assemblies to whom the village panchayats and Villagers’ Committees are responsible tend to be far livelier in India than in China largely because the overall ethos in India is that of democratic debate rather than political conformity. Moreover, in the last few years, large village assemblies – Gram Sabhas, as the Indian Constitution designates them – are being supplemented by ward-level assemblies, which makes for more interactive consideration of village related issues and a less forbidding and less superficial forum of debate than large, unwieldy Gram Sabhas. Nevertheless, the liveliness and modalities of debate in India should not be overstressed because Chinese public opinion, especially at the local level, is becoming increasingly restive and learning the power of the ballot. Where India scores heavily over China in representativeness is with regard to gender empowerment and affirmative action in favour of the historically disadvantaged. Owing to reservations for women, pitched at

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INFOCUS | INDIA-CHINA | LOCAL SELF GOVERNMENT

RADICAL REORGANISATION: China’s Deng Xiaoping

a minimum of 33% of both seats and posts, there are as many as 1.2 million women elected to local government institutions, about a million in rural areas and the rest in urban areas. Of these, about 86,000 are office bearers. Bihar, a state generally represented as being among the most socially backward in the country, has pioneered the innovation of raising the women’s share of assured seats to 50% (and actually electing close to 55% women to their local bodies as women are not obliged to contest only from reserved seats). Several other state governments followed suit and the ruling coalition at the Centre have now pledged themselves to a Constitutional amendment which will raise the share of assured women’s seats to 50%, thus raising the number of elected women representatives to nearly 2 million. There are, thus, more elected women in India alone than in the rest of the world put together; it amounts to gender empowerment in political and social terms on a scale which is without precedent in world history and without parallel in the contemporary world. Moreover, studies conducted in one state – Karnataka – have shown that, as against 33% reservations for Scheduled Tribe women within the share reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, the actual share of elected tribal women is nearly double at 65%; and the comparable figure for Scheduled

Caste women is of the order of 54%, thus signalling the fact that women’s empowerment through Panchayat Raj is far ahead in the depressed sections of society than among the swarn jaati, the caste elites that are often portrayed as the purveyors of elite capture of local government units in rural India. In sharp contrast, women’s empowerment through local government in China is tokenism at best – or, rather, at worst. Resisting the temptation to dwell at even greater length on women’s empowerment through Panchayat Raj, let me turn to affirmative action through the Panchayat system in favour of the historically disadvantaged – the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, so called because they are exhaustively listed in Schedules appended to the Constitution. While reservation of seats for the SC/ST in elected bodies has been a defining characteristic of Indian democracy since the pre-Independence elections of 1937, Panchayat Raj has been designed to reflect the social composition of the electorate at every level of the threetier panchayat system, with the share of SC/ST seat reservations being calibrated to the share of these sections of the population at each level of the electorate – village, intermediate and district. Reservations apply also to offices on a rotational basis. Moreover, for tribal areas listed in the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution, the Constitution mandates Parliament to pass legislation relating to Panchayat Raj in such areas. Accordingly, the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act were passed in 1996 and has entered the political discourse under the acronym PESA. The distinguishing feature of this crucial legislation is that it empowers Gram Sabhas in Fifth Schedule areas to “approve” plans, projects and programmes proposed by village panchayats as well as “authorise” the issue of “utilisation certificates,” the bureaucratic device – often misused – by which the bureaucracy is held responsible for expenditure. In no other area of governance is the authority to issue “utilization certificates” vested in the beneficiary community other than under PESA. Further, the Act

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provides for exclusive community control over minor forest produce and the right to be consulted in respect of the exploitation of minerals and other forest wealth, a powerful tool to resist social exploitation and displacement. But perhaps precisely because of its far-reaching, even revolutionary implications, it is principally the utter failure of the state governments concerned to faithfully and sincerely implement PESA, despite all of them having passed conformity legislation through their respective state legislatures, that is, in my view, responsible for a third of the districts of India being convulsed, partially or wholly, in armed insurgency in such tribal areas, ironically by partisans calling themselves “Maoists.” While parts of China have been classified as “minority areas” and given a fair measure of relative autonomy to manage their affairs, local government in China is not used as a tool of social engineering, as in India, to right historical wrongs. While, therefore, India scores over China on almost all dimensions of representativeness in local government, where China is far ahead of India is

ROOT-AND-BRANCH: India’s Rajiv Gandhi

in effectiveness. Under the Indian Constitution, Panchayat Raj being a state subject, State legislatures and, more importantly, state governments have been most reluctant to effectively devolve the three Fs – Functions, Finances and Functionaries – to the institutions of local self-government nor to mobilise the Panchayat Raj system for effective district planning as mandated by the Constitution. Democracy, being a game of numbers, there is an inexorable push from below for more genuine administrative and economic empowerment, but vested bureaucratic and state legislature interests are fighting a relentless rearguard action to delay, derail and defer devolution. Only in states where the political authority has demonstrated an over-riding political will to push Panchayat Raj has there been significant progress towards effective local self-government. The leader of the pack over the last decade and more has been Kerala, with Karnataka running a close second, and some others – West Bengal, Tripura, Sikkim, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana – slowly catching up. But most others remain reluctant start-ups. The Central Government has also been woefully slow in using its immense financial clout to push for effective Panchayat Raj. More than 75% of all funding for anti-poverty and rural welfare expenditure comes from the Central budget. It is delivered through nearly a hundred or more “schemes” of the Central Ministries, each of whom – and, worse, each of which – set up their own respective silos, insulated from each other, to deliver Centrally legislated entitlements of public goods and services to the same set of beneficiaries: the poor. Notwithstanding explicit instructions issued in October 2004 at the instance of the Prime Minister to all Central Ministers to reorient their schemes to ensure the centrality of the panchayats in the planning and implementation of these schemes – and that too within three months not one Central scheme has thus far been effectively redesigned, Central Ministers and officials taking shelter behind the “may”, as distinct from the

BUILDING INDIA: Jawaharlal Nehru (left) with Mahatma Gandhi.

village assemblies and even individual villagers in China have far more meaningful access to their locally elected representative and the range of issues that can be taken up with these representatives is far wider. “shall” clause of the Constitution to say they are giving the State governments the “option” of resorting to Panchayat Raj Institutions but not obliging them to do so. Even the Planning Commission, notwithstanding its own circular of August 2006 insisting on district planning as provided for in Article 243G read with Article 243ZD as the foundation of all planning, has not withheld a paisa of Plan allocations for want of Panchayat-based district plans. The absence of any real political will on the part of the Centre to insist on effective Panchayat Raj has leached the Panchayat Raj system of effective devolution. All one is left dependent

on is the political will displayed by some states. There is, thus, unlike in China no element of uniformity in the administrative and economic empowerment of the institutions of local government. The one ray of hope is that the recommendations of the Thirteenth Finance Commission, tabled in Parliament a fortnight ago, provide in principle for massive and assured transfers of sizeable funds for “non- Plan”, that is, maintenance and other revenue expenditure. If only the Planning Commission in its forthcoming mid-term review of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan were to follow in the footsteps of the Finance Commission, genuine Panchayat Raj might still be achieved within a generation – 25 years – of the entry into force in April/May 1993 of the relevant provisions of the Constitution: the deadline set by Rajiv Gandhi for himself. Whether this happens or not depends very much on the sincerity with which the Government takes the Prime Minister’s injunction of January 2009 that “Inclusive Growth is not possible without Inclusive Governance,” an affirmation not repeated since then although “Inclusive Growth” remains the arch-stone of the Eleventh Plan.

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Indeed, it is disturbing to see the dismissive tone of the Government with regard to the shocking finding of the UNDP in its latest Human Development report, released in India last October (ironically by the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission himself – history’s “cunning passages” never cease!) that over the last fifteen years, during which anti-poverty and rural welfare/development spending by the Centre has risen fifteen times, India’s relative ranking on the UN Human Development Index has risen from 132 to – well – 132! Outcomes are clearly totally noncommensurate

In sharp, even startling contrast to India’s painfully slow and uneven experience of devolution over close to two decades of governance reform, a period almost equally coincidental with the much-vaunted economic reforms process, China’s local government system has been, and continues to be, far more intimately involved with rural development, rural welfare, and catering to the basic minimum needs of the people. The reasons for this are manifold and I will attempt to briefly outline these. First, autonomy of finances. While China has a system of grants from

with outlays. And yet there is little commitment to a radical systemic overhauling of the delivery system to make local bodies responsible for the delivery to their communities of the community’s entitlements of public goods and services. Only Empowerment will lead to Entitlements, and only Empowerment and Entitlements will together lead to Enrichment – the three Es to be achieved through the three Fs. Short of that happening, India will prosper but Indians will not. And accelerated growth, with its inevitable concomitant of accelerating disparities, could destabilise our entire democratic framework – India’s single greatest achievement since Independence – as it has already begun doing in a third of our insurgency-ridden districts.

the Centre or the Provinces to the local bodies, with the proportion of such grants to locally raised revenues rising in inverse proportion to the degree of development and per capita incomes in the Province, county or even village concerned, from the early beginnings of the local governance reforms process in China, and harking back to the earlier communist practice over the decades since the Revolution, one of the principal responsibilities of local bodies has been revenue raising, partly to defray their own expenses but substantially to meet the revenue expectations of higher local authorities from the Townships to the Counties and even to the Provinces and the Centre. Only in Goa in India are the local bodies required to garner taxes

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which are then appropriated by the State government, often for expenditure by the State government itself or, more typically, through their MLAs, that is Members of the State Legislature, the Vidhan Sabha. The upside of the Chinese system of revenue collection is that local bodies in China have a much larger sphere of responsibilities than in most Indian States for the provision of public goods and services. Equally, village assemblies and even individual villagers in China have far more meaningful access to their locally elected representative and the range of issues that can be taken up with these representatives is far wider. In India, more often than not, the locally elected representative, the panch or the sarpanch, is no more than a conduit for channelling public grievances and public demands to the all-pervasive local bureaucracy or their respective MLAs or MPs, occasionally even the State Minister concerned. Thus, Panchayat Raj has manifested itself as primarily a grievance redressal mechanism in India while it is a functioning tier of government in China, particularly in the more prosperous counties and provinces. The downside is that local authorities in China, through an unholy nexus between the elected body, the local Party officials and the local bureaucracy, indulge in outrage levels of exactions, overt and covert, legal and illegal, to meet and exceed the targets of revenue collection set by higher authorities at the Central or Provincial level, the excesses committed on peasant farmers being one of the more notorious stories surfacing in the otherwise quite commendable story of local government in China. To an Indian, there is something weirdly reminiscent in this of the consequences of Lord Cornwallis’ 18th century Permanent Settlement that led to the horrors of zamindari, especially in Bengal, Bihar, the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) and both halves of Punjab, the Indian and the Pakistani, as also Sind, now in Pakistan. Yet, in the strictly hierarchical, disciplined and authoritarian political regime that prevails in China, there is little alternative to compliance.

Moreover, “mandates” are received from above as to what is expected of local bodes, distorting local development priorities. More often than not, the contribution of local officials and elected representatives (almost all of whom are ambitious Party workers anxious for preferment to higher echelons of authority) is measured on the sole criterion of their tangible contribution to birth control, graphic posters of birth control devices being rather more in evidence in local government establishments than local development priorities (as I saw a couple of years ago on a visit to villages around picturesque Dali in Kunmin Province). This means that in practice local bodies in China function primarily as implementing agencies of higherlevel policies and programmes rather than as autonomous, communitycontrolled and community-responsive institutions of local self-government. Local government in China is thus reduced for much of their working time to the role played by local bodies in India, that is, as implementing and propaganda agencies than as institutions of local self-government, as mandated in Article 243G of the Indian Constitution. It also means that local bodies, especially in the more prosperous coastal regions of China, are vehicles for profiteering in the interest of the local elites, generally Party or PLAbased, that have captured and dominate the local bodies. On the other hand, the unleashing of the animal spirits of market socialism has primarily taken place through the highly entrepreneurial Township and Village Enterprises established by the local bodies that has decisively contributed to the astonishing and rapid rise of China as the manufacturing hub of the global economy. Recent studies, on the one hand and the difficulty in replicating the TVE model in areas distant from Special Economic Zones, indicate that it is perhaps more proximity to SEZs than any unique feature of Chinese local government autonomy that has linked local government in China with their staggeringly successful Industrial

Revolution, especially as ever increasing numbers of TVEs are converting to joint stock companies and even proprietorial concerns. But certainly in comparison with India’s Rural Business Hubs that were explicitly urged on local self-government and the Indian corporate sector by none less than the Prime Minister himself at the start of his first term as Prime Minister have been a dismal failure. I should know: I was the Minister in charge of this flop exercise! Where however the different paths of local government in China and India converge is in their significance

the Second World War, after the miracle of American Capitalism had, as John Kenneth Galbraith brilliantly demonstrated in his book of that name, shown the way to sustained progress in defiance of traditional gloomy business cycle theories much in the manner that the bumble bee flies whatever the laws of aerodynamics might say. Both in India and China, the Kuznetz thesis has consciously or unconsciously influenced the relentless pursuit of ever more sustained ever higher growth rates, the equity implications being sidelined in the much-vaunted belief that growth is

for future political and social stability in both countries, as also for continued economic progress. Simon Kuznetz had famously argued in his Presidential Address to the American Economics Association on 29 December 1954 that while widening inequalities of income and wealth were an inevitable concomitant of the growth process, this did not amount to the sacrifice of equity because growth is a tide that raises all boats, that everyone benefited from higher growth rates even if the higher the growth rate the wider the disparity. This comforting doctrine came at the end of two centuries of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, a century after the US economy had emerged as the largest in the world and, post the Great Depression and

good for everyone even if some are fast-tracked while the majority limp forward. The grassroots are, however, beginning to rumble. The rumbling is louder in India but discontent is all too visible in China too. In fact, subaltern India – the India of the jungles and the tribals – is even questioning the hitherto unchallenged axiom that Development is Desirable by postulating the alternative view – the grassroots view – that Development is Disruptive and disproportionately benefits the distant to the detriment of those who have traditionally lived on the land that is sought to be expropriated and exploited in the name of economic growth. To whom do the minerals and forest wealth belong? To the State, as argued

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in colonial law and carried forward into independent India? Or, as the Indian Maoist insists, to the people of the forest? In less violent form and in less strident terms, the underclass in other parts of India has begun increasingly asking, “What’s in it for us”? What, indeed, is in it for 77% of Indians who, according to the unchallenged Arjun Sengupta Committee Report, presented to Parliament in 2007, based on 2004-05 figures, live on under Rs20 a day – two US dollars at Purchasing Power Parity? Are these 836 million Indians as enthused by India’s prospects

stagnation among the submerged seven-eighths? Karl Marx warned that those who forget their history will be compelled to relive it. History tells us that the big challenge to industrialization generally comes in the sixth to eighth decades after the start of the Industrial Revolution: from the mild manifestation of the Luddite Movement in England in the early nineteenth century to the barricades of Paris in 1832 so vividly described in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo to the “Spectre that is haunting Europe… Workers of the World Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains. You

of economic superpowerdom within the life time of today’s youth as are the 259 million who, according to the same report, constitute India’s “middle and higher income” class? For the moment, India’s discontented are turning to the ballot rather than the bullet to vent their grievances: “antiincumbency” has become a peculiarly Indian word to describe the revolving door through which the electorate pushes out incumbent governments, and even more, incumbent legislators at every election – only to find, in the renowned Punjabi phrase, that “Natha Singh, Prem Singh/ One and the same thing!” How long before democracy itself is questioned as the root cause for

have a world to gain!” In Germany, it is the sixth decade after Bismarck created the Zollverien and sparked the Industrial Revolution in Central Europe that Adolf Hitler was hailed – or is it “heiled”? – by his people; it was at about the same time that Japan gave itself over to Admiral Tojo, the political and military face of the Zaibatsu; that Salazar, the professor of economics rescued Portugal from financial disaster only to grind it under his heel for the next fifty years; that Mussolini marched on Parliament from Milan; that Franco overthrew the Republicans. Let us be warned: Kuznets or no Kuznets, there is a political-economic reality in the making that threatens the

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continuation of our democracy. So also, in China. A Chinese labour relations friend of mine, at a UN conference in Bangkok a few years ago described the consequences of liberalisation and globalisation in his country as, “First, they make you landless; then they make you jobless; that leaves you homeless; and finally renders you hopeless.” In their hundreds of millions transiently unemployed Chinese trudge from railway station to railway station, bus stand to bus stand, while many hundreds of millions more languish in the countryside. The Chinese leadership has had the wisdom to proclaim “harmony” as the goal of all nation-building; we call it “Inclusive Growth.” But neither in China will harmony prevail, nor in India inclusive growth occur unless we have in both countries a much higher measure of people’s involvement in the building of their own lives. We have each had our achievements in this respect. Each of us too has put in place the basic structures needed for participative development. What we also both have is relatively empty cups waiting to be filled with the nectar of empowerment. If such empowerment comes their way, those deprived of the immediate benefits of growth might be prepared to wait a generation or two longer. But if even Empowerment to secure Entitlements is not to be their lot, there is a stirring beneath the surface which we must all list to. Else, our dreams may turn into delusions. We do not have the luxury of waiting for centuries, as happened in the West, for the poorest to get a modicum of material comfort; our people are more impatient, more demanding. And we have the means at hand – genuine local self government – to meet these rising expectations substantially. Would that we have the wisdom to use it. 

Mani Shankar Aiyar is a former minister for panchayati raj. He is a Member of Parliament.


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