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New Impetus to Democratic Decentralization

Stephanie Tawa-Lama Rewal

By Narender Kumar and Manoj Rai
Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2006, pp. 236, Rs. 525.00


This book is a welcome contribution to the body of literature generated by the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA), a historic piece of legislation adopted in 1992, giving a new impetus to democratic decentralization. One of the most acclaimed aspect of the 73rd CAA (but also of the 74th CAA, its counterpan for urban India) is its inclusive dimension, through the mandatory provision of reserved seats in all Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) for those social categories that were hitheno most marginalized politically: women, Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Scheduled Castes (SCs). The present volume focuses on the latter category. Its main objective is to ascenain, through an empirical study, to what extent reservations for SCs, or dalits, have actually empowered them. The question is a very valid one: indeed reservations force the inclusion of dalits, in proportion to their demographic importance in the state, into locally elected councils (be it at the village, block or district level). But, as shown by studies on women's political representation, the mere presence of a given social category in elected councils does not guarantee that that category's interests will be better taken care of. Thus the political, economic and social context in which reservations are implemented is bound to affect their usefulness in terms of empowerment.   Kumar and Rai endeavour precisely to ascertain the weight of various contextual factors on the effectiveness of dalit leadership, through a comparison of the profile and perceptions of dalit representatives in four north Indian states respectively characterized by different levels of development and a different status of the dalit population: Himachal Pradesh (HP), Madhya Pradesh (MP), Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Haryana.   The book starts with an introduction summarizing the history of local self-government in India, reviewing existing studies on the subject, and presenting the rationale and objectives of the study. Then come four chapters presenting the results of the survey, statewise (2 districts are studied in HP and Mp, one district in UP and Haryana). Finally a sixth chapter underlines the results of the comparison between the states, and the last chapter sums up the findings and makes a few recommendations.   The book is visibly the outcome of painstaking work. However it fails to convince on two grounds: a flawed methodology, and a weak analytical framework. Concerning the methodology, one regrets that so much space is devoted to commenting on a large series of tables whose explaining power appear dubious in ...

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