Journal Articles

Decentralization facilitated dominant caste entrenchments

D Shyam Babu

Centre for Policy Research

March 6, 2023

AS Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A Macdonald put it, we need national government for national needs and local government for local needs, the importance of local government institutions is self-evident. In fact, the local bodies are more important insofar as people’s day-to-day lives are concerned than the state or national governments. However, this comment is a critique of the ‘elected’ village panchayats in India.

The point is not that local government through elections is inherently good or bad. Context matters. Geography matters. And the aims and design of these institutions matter. It is also ironic that many public-policy interventions require certain enabling conditions to succeed, however, once those enabling conditions are in place, there would not be any need for those policy interventions. For example, a relatively harmonious society and a bureaucracy that is accountable and efficient are the two conditions necessary for successful governance at any level. Most of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries do possess these two conditions. For example, Of the 38 member-countries of OECD, which is a group of the developed nations, 36 countries are homogeneous, and each country has one language. They are also homogeneous in terms of their ethnicity and religion. In contrast, in countries such as India where social harmony and efficient bureaucracy are below par, the second-order solutions like local self-government will not only be ineffective but a distraction from tackling the real challenges, viz., promoting social harmony as well as efficiency in administration.

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