ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Unrealised Democratic Potential

Panchayati Raj by Kuldeep Mathur (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), Oxford India Short Introductions, 2013; pp 224, Rs 195.

“India does not live in its towns but in its villages”, M K Gandhi had once said. This still remains true to this day even though the centre of gravity of the economy has shifted substantially to urban areas. This shift of the economic fulcrum to the urban areas resulting in agriculture presently contributing only 13.7% of India’s gross domestic product, even though 68.8% of the population still resides in villages, has created a serious problem both in the provision of livelihoods and in ensuring environmental sustainability in rural areas.

The Constitution that was adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 1949 had rejected Gandhi’s concept of a decentralised village-centred economy and polity and instead provided for a centralised model of industrial development and government as followed in the liberal democracies of the West. However, the failure of this western model to bring about a huge shift of population from the rural to the urban areas in India and adequately provide for them there, as was necessary, has created problems from the beginning. The pressures arising from the burgeoning dissatisfaction at the grass roots in rural areas due to this failure grew so much that eventually local self-government in villages became a constitutionally mandated feature of democracy in India with the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) coming into force in 1993.

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