This paper reports on a study in five districts in the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India, on the functioning of newly-strengthened local government. This was supplemented by a second phase of research, based largely on key informant interviews, regarding the functioning of recently introduced Gram Swaraj. The study strongly presents the problems of the Panchayat system. However, it also brings out another layer of reality – the process of empowerment of the marginalised and some moderate, sincere use of Panchayats for participatory democracy. The cases of empowerment of women, dalits, collective community decision-making, and altering development priorities in favour of people’s needs and aspirations are all very significant examples and raise hopes from the Panchayat system, despite its shortcomings. These achievements in the context of a largely unequal nondemocratic social and political order are extremely significant. In tune with this perspective, a large number of civil society actors have identified the problems and successes of Panchayats and are working to consolidate the gains from the Panchayat system for people centric development and effective democratic self-governance.
Amitabh Behar; Kumar, Y. Decentralisation in Madhya Pradesh, India: from Panchayati Raj to Gram Swaraj (1995 to 2001). Overseas Development Institute, London, UK (2002) 96 pp. ISBN 0 85003 595 3 [Working Paper 170]