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'Deepening' Democracy: Beyond Institutional Parameters


Amit Prakash

CITIZEN INITIATIVES AND DEMOCRATIC ENGAGEMENT: EXPERIENCES FROM INDIA
By Sumona Dasgupta
Routledge, New Delhi, 2010, pp. xv+187, Rs. 495.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 5 May 2011

The volume under review is geared towards describing and analysing the practical implications and policy imperatives of deepening democracy beyond its institutional parameters and the role of civil society interventions in creating a culture of democratic engagement, accountability, and transparency (p. 3). The primary empirical material for the volume has been drawn from the case studies and field data generated by the Preelection Voters Awareness Campaign (PEVACS), Panchayati Raj Jagrukta Abhiyan (PRJA) and the Gram Sabha Mobilisation (GSM) campaignall local democracy awareness campaigns started by the Society for Participatory Research In Asia (PRIA) but soon became a wider civil society initiative geared to mobilizing citizens participation in local elections and supporting those elected to office in panchayats with knowledge and skills to discharge their functions as elected panchayat members. The first chapter therefore devotes itself to examining the details of these campaigns, their distinctiveness and effectiveness within the framework of emerging literature on local democracy, citizens engagement and local institutions. The author views these civil society initiatives as adding value to the practice of local democracy owing to the fact that government machinery is simply inadequate for carrying out campaigns of this scale and magnitude; civil society organizations ability to engage with practical governance issues at the grassroots and fill the vacuum both in terms of knowledge and skill building [to] provide the newlyelected representatives, especially women and those belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes (pp. 56). Taking up some of the central narratives of this campaign, chapter 2 offers various case studies from a number of states where the author argues, these civil society initiatives created possibilities of true democratic engagements between various local actors. Viewing this pattern as a unique dynamic, the chapter offers extensive ethnographic accounts of the campaigns experience of advocacy of various local issues. Aimed at mobilizing the electorate to participate in the local democratic process anchored by the elections to the panchayats but also addressing crucial issues of awareness, social transformation and fuller participation by the marginalized sections of the population, the campaigns are seen as filling a central void in local politics.The author underlines how this civil society intervention was able to support knowledge and skill gaps in a more substantive participation of women and scheduled castes in the local panchayat and politics. Critically examining the issues emergent from the implementation of the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution under which local panchayats have been ...


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