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Politics and the People


J. Devika

LOCAL GOVERNANCE IN INDIA: DECENTRALIZATION AND BEYOND
Edited by Niraja Gopal Jayal, Amit Prakash and Pradeep K. Sharma
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 426, Rs. 695.00

DEMOCRATIZATION IN PROGRESS: WOMEN AND LOCAL POLITICS IN URBAN INDIA
By Archana Ghosh and Stephanie Tawa Lama-Rewal
Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 158, Rs. 375.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 1 January 2007

Across the social scientific disciplines in India, issues related to local governance have gained an extraordinary visibility in the present. This is certainly not an inexplicable development. The 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Indian Constitution in 1992 were indeed significant landmarks in local governance in India, as they set in motion a process by which panchayati raj institutions, armed with newly granted constitutional status, came to be set up throughout India. Having functioned for over a decade now, the experiment arouses considerable curiosity. Researchers have been keen to assess the results of the experiment, identify the forces that have shaped it in the different parts of the country, and explore the processes unleashed in its course. Secondly, given that the drive towards decentralization in India was mostly political and normative and not really administrative, the prospects of inclusion it held out the traditionally excluded social groups made the experiment especially interesting for critical social scientific scholarship. However, many who work from the angle of administrative efficiency have also followed the experiment with considerable interest. Not surprisingly, a fairly large body of work informed by a wide variety of perspectives and methodologies has accumulated around decentralization and local governance in India. The two books reviewed here clearly belong to this growing body of literature.   The collection of essays edited by Niraja Gopal Jayal, Amit Prakash and Pradeep K. Sharma on issues in local governance in India addresses decentralization as both a political-normative project, and as an administrative-technical one. It is both timely and effective. Timely, because these essays serve a very useful contemporary need, that of clearing up the enormous confusion in terminology that has sprouted up around decentralization and local governance. Cutting through this confusing din is important not for intellectual reasons alone. Indeed, terminological elisions have important political implications and effects, intended or unintended, which need to be followed through. Effective, because the authors firm up their insights with impressive empirical investigation. Further an admirable variety of theoretical and political perspectives -- from political economy to conventional welfare economics -- inform the essays. And the disagreements between authors are also quite visibly present.   As Niraja Gopal Jayal points out in her introductory essay -- and as the title of the volume suggests -- contrary to much contemporary commonsense, there is much more to local governance than just decentralization. Many essays in the book that explore the degree and extent ...


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