Naturally I was thrilled to visit my village after a haitus. One improvement that I noticed this time around was that new toll collection centres had sprung up virtually upto my village. Never mind, there were no roads in the first place. A new method of public loot, I thought. Naturally, reaching my village was as trecherous affair as it was a couple of decades back and perhaps a bit costly too. To me despite the overall atmosphere of despair, the Panchayat Raj mechanism (PRM) offered a ray of hope. India requires, a heavy dose of decentralisation and participative governance. PRM, I felt and offered some solutions to these issues.
On reaching the village, I was appalled to note that our village Panchayat had cancelled the celebrations at the eleventh hour. The silence was funereal. “Narada, decentralisation is a huge hoax in this country. No one wants to delegate his authority. If the State governments have been poinitng to the need for fiscal develution from the Centre, they have been loath to carry out a similar exercise vis-a-vis the Panchayats.” Thus spake my friend Naidu, a very important functionary in our Panchayat. “What happened?” I pressed. “Narada, while every one was for the idea of Centre granting funds for building villlage road within the Panchayat limits, the local MP did not want the idea to flower any further. He sabotaged it by ensuring that the funds required for this scheme was not avaialble as he had vested interests in ensuring that the roads are privatised and he gets a cut on toll collected.” “What did he do?” I enquired, understanding the seriousness of the issue. “He is an important ally of the ruling coalition. One thing that these MPs from such parties ceratinly know is the art of applying presure at the right place and time. That worked in stalling the project,” Naidu quipped. “But you could have approached the local MLA, after all he is from a different political party and you could have played one against the other,” I opined. “Narada, this chap fears that the success of these schemes would have a negative impact on his political fortunes as it could lead to emergence of local leadership. Hence he too was keen on sabotaging this scheme and also the PRI mechanism,” Naidu replied stoically. “So am I to assume that decentralisation would never work in this country, whatever be the political affiliation?” I enquired carrying the debate further. “Narada, in this country Socialism and with it the idea of centralisation is still alive and kicking. In the past decade and a half, Socialism is merely under retreat and not dead as it is commonly presumed,” an embittered Naidu replied. “Aren’t you incorrigibly cynical?” I asked. “Quite the contrary Narada. Ideas, Institutions and Individuals of the pre-liberalisation era are very much at work to ensure the failure of reforms. PRI mechanism is merely a subset of our reforms process. The manner in which we have been handling reforms and with it the decentralisation of governance, I am particularly convinced that polity and bureacracy are co-conspirators to the failure of reforms.” Noticing that I was yet to be fully convinced Naidu added “Don’t underestimate the power of State and its agents who all have vested interest in the return of Socialism.” “Are you suggesting that it is the revenge of the defeated idea?” I enquired. “Yes it is,” replied Naidu and added, “Deformers of yesteryears have acquired the hallowed status of reformers now. That’s all. Nothing else has changed.” Appropriately, the London educated Naidu used the longest word in English language to describe this huge hoax. It was ineed colourful. So were his explitives.