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Missing the Mark


L.C. Jain

DECENTRALISATION, CORRUPTION AND SOCIAL CAPITAL FROM INDIA TO THE WEST
By Sten Widmalm
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 229, Rs. 495.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 6 June 2008

One of the challenges that seemed to have prompted Widmalm—a university teacher, to engage in this study was that the ‘intellectual climate in the field of development studies is in a rather poor condition in many Universities’. He also explains how he came upon the seemingly intriguing subject of his study: ‘The relationship between decentralization and corruption is receiving increased attention but there is still a dearth of well-designed studies… many actors, such as aid agencies, policy makers and financial institutions believe that decentralization policies and the phenomenon of corruption have a major influence on efforts to produce development’. So, apart from the university intellectuals, he also chose development actors—as another constituency for the product of his labour.   These actors, says Widmalm, seem to see corruption as indisputably a leading factor holding back development in poor countries around the world, and decentralization has, since the 1990s in particular, been claimed to be one of the main means of preventing it. Policy makers and aid organizations in general agree that corruption should be fought and that decentralization is good for democracy and administrative efficiency. True, there are some who hold that decentralization is associated with and paves the way for corruption.   In these circumstances India’s Panchayat Raj ‘reforms’ implemented since the mid-1990s, emerged as of particular interest to the author. But before gleaning from India’s experience, the study stretches itself to discuss ancient Rome, Greece and India and then move on to the West, China, Latin America and Russia ‘in order to apply those observations to its proposed “empirical study” in two Indian states—Kerala and Madhya Pradesh’.   We confine ourselves here to Widmalm’s study of Panchayat Raj in India. His look at Panchayat Raj in India is alas, confined to the surface. He does not appear to have first satisfied himself as to whether India had progressed with decentralization sufficiently as to be ready to offer reliable answers to his poignant questions: can decentralization reduce a democratic deficit? Can decentralization make public administration more efficient? Is decentralization really a safeguard against corruption? What can be learnt from India’s experience of reforms so far?   Besides, he does not take on board the historical context specific to India. For example, he altogether misses the fact that the adoption of Panchayat Raj in India was an integral part of the system of governance which was to ...


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