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Redefining Goals

Bidyut Chakrabarty

Edited by L.C. Jain
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 547, Rs. 690.00

By Arun Shourie
Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2004, pp. 262, Rs. 390.00


These two books are clubbed together for two specific reasons: first, both these titles deal with the actual functioning of the government at various levels; while Arun Shourie deals with governance primarily at the level of central government with which he was associated in different capacities, including as a minister, the book edited by L.C. Jain dwells on issues relevant to various levels of governance, ranging from the central, provincial to local governments. Secondly, both these books are accounts based on the actual experiences of the authors while seeking to understand the actual functioning of multi-level governments. In L.C. Jain’s compilation, there are some articles which do not exactly fit into the title in the sense that they are remotely linked with ‘decentralization’ or ‘local governance’. Arun Shourie’s is a first-hand account underlining the ‘devastating impact’ of ‘bureaucratization’ per se on Indian administration, the nature of which hardly transforms despite changes in the ideological complexion of the governments in power. There is no respite from this since, as the author argues, a process of ‘sclerosis has set in’ crippling the administration beyond repair. What is the way-out?   Interestingly, despite their ideological differences, the authors of these two volumes are in favour of devolution of power whereby people, who are now mere target groups and not participants in the contemporary dispensation of political power, are crucial. Drawing on the actual functioning of the panchayati-raj institutions at the grassroots in various parts of India, scholars have identified new dynamics of administration which is simply inconceivable in the Weberian theoretical format. Governance at the local level is ‘pro-active’ and not merely ‘re-active’. As Shourie eloquently puts, instead of being a ‘monitor’, the state should be ‘refashioned into an entity whose job is enable others to do what they can best’ (p. 255). Accor- ding to him, the real route to reform lies in transferring ‘functions and power from the state structure to society’ (p. 254). There is however a significant difference: while Shourie is a practitioner of governance, most of the contributors in L.C. Jain’s volume are scholars interested in grasping the process of decentralization as it manifests in local governance.   Two important issues run through Shourie’s book: first, the growing bureaucratization of public administration appears to have handicapped the Government of India. Reasons are many. As a result, ‘[a]dministration has degenerated into notings on files’ (p. 123). ...

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