The development laboratory

  • 30/03/2004

The development laboratory Last year, Congress chief minister Digvijay Singh lost the Madhya Pradesh (MP) state elections. Two years before, the Communist-led coalition lost in Kerala. Since both governments had fervently promoted decentralisation, questions naturally come to the fore: Was their defeat a vote against the move towards local governance and devolution of power? Further, if decentralisation does not bring electoral benefits, will politicians invest in this idea in the future? What went wrong in MP? What's not going right in Kerala? In MP, will the initiatives introduced outlive the change in government? In Kerala, has it outlived so? Once people have tasted power can officialdom regain its control once again? Or are we wrong to believe that officialdom's stranglehold had been loosened?

In this story, we attempt to find answers. But before you read what we found, let us make clear to you a bias. Down To Earth has consistently upheld the idea of a devolved state, in which local institutions are empowered to manage their resources and other affairs. Not because of religious or other sentiments, but because we know that bureaucracies cannot plant trees that survive, or build and maintain local water systems, or protect grazing lands from encroachments, or run schools where teachers come to work. Bureaucracies cannot achieve all this in the 600,000 villages of India and its numerous hamlets. At the same time, if people are to participate, they need institutions. They need funds to spend on what they think is their priority. They need legal entitlements.

Readers of Down To Earth may recall that in 1998, it was widely predicted that Digvijay Singh would lose. But he won. We reported then that

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