For many years India has worked on establishing a democratic decentralised system of local government with the intention of devolving political and administrative powers to the people. The system of local government is called Panchayati Raj, and it has existed for many decades. However, it has undergone several reforms - the latest of which took place in 1992 and resulted in a constitutional amendment act. The members of the local-governments in the Panchayati Raj system of 1992 have ended their first five-year term. With the evolution of the reforms in mind and the political intentions manifest, it is interesting to focus on the essential aspect of the local governments - peoples' involvement in local government and how they respond to the opportunity of running their own affairs. This chapter takes a close-up of popular participation in ~cal government in India. It reviews the evolution of India's system of local government, and, in order to illustrate some of the complexities concerning popular participation in local government, it presents the results of a specific case study . The study was carried out by the author in the state of Karnataka, in South India, in the summer of 1998. Kamataka was the first Indian state to introduce a system of decentralised government according to the 1992 amendment act. It was also the first state to implement the policy of one third of the seats being reserved for females in all local bodies.
As the discussion on political decentralisation is mainly concerned with citizens' involvement in local governments, the chapter begins with a review of the concept of popular participation in local government.
Popular Participation in Local Government
Petter Langsett writes that the main objectives of decentralisation strategies are " ... to build a more democratic government that is responsive and accountable to the public ... to introduce local choice into the delivery of civil services, fostering a sense of local ownership" [in Villadsen/Lubanga 1996, p.1S]. In other words, decentralisation, particularly that associated with devolution. is about providing people with an opportunity to influence the running of their own affairs. This requires a political system and public administration where autonomy and authority to plan, decide and manage is transferred from the central government to other institutions [Rondinelli 1983]. The transition from central government to province/district! Municipal management calls for a willingness at the top to devolve powers to the bottom - and enthusiasm from the bottom to utilise these new powers in the running of local affairs.
To achieve the objectives of democratic government one of the essential variables of decentralisation is people's own involvement in their government. In order to institutionalise the participation of citizens in the management of their own affairs, decentralisation of local government is necessary [Pateman 1970; Rondinelli 1983].
Local government provides an opportunity for political participation and expression, and, therefore, it has a pivotal role in a democratic system [Pateman 1970; Stoker and Batley 1991]. It can be argued that, by placing government closer to the people, policy makers become more responsive to the will and wishes of the citizenry. The reason is that locally elected representatives possess knowledge of their locality, and they ought to be more attentive towards local needs and wants than nationally elected representatives. This might also permit better communication between local leaders and the people to whom they are responsible. [King and Stoker 1996; Langsett in VilladseniLubanga 1996]. From the participation of representatives follows their accountability to the people for the policies and actions formulated and taken while in office. Local government is a forum for participation by the people-both for the electorate and the elected. For the electorate, among other things, it means electing representatives through universal suffrage. For the elected, it mainly signifies getting involved in the management of local affairs on behalf of the electorate. This chapter focuses on the participation of the people elected as representatives in local governments, because it is precisely these people who are given the opportunity to make decisions on behalf of other citizens.
Participation - by Whom?
It is important to specify who are the people having access to local governments, because "the people" are made up of individuals and groups with diverging goals and priorities, different resources, incomes, educational standards, social prestige and power [Dahl, 1963]. Lars Birgergard argues that "inequalities tend to prelude normal democratic processes, where one voice counts no more and no less than any other voice, and where majorities accommodate aspirations of minorities." [Birgergard 1990, p.8] As a consequence, it makes a considerable difference who are regarded as participants - in this case, in a local government.
The literature on participation is abundant, and various definitions of the concept exist. What most of the definitions have in common is that they recognise that participation means sharing or joining in something and empowerment through redistribution of power [Dahl 1965; Held 1996; The World Bank 1996]. 'Kirsten Westegaard' writes that "in the literature and in common use the concept usually refers to the participation of persons or groups who have been excluded from influence" [Westergaard 1986, p. 20]. Westergaard has adopted this thought in her own definition of popular participation: "collective efforts to increase and exercise control over resources on the part of groups and movements of those hitherto excluded from such control" [Westergaard 1986, p.2S]. The definition has been inspired by an early definition of UNRISD , which, in line with Birgergard' s explanation, provides an argument for increasing popular participation by focusing on "groups and movements of those hitherto excluded from control". This is also the reason for the special attention paid to a particular group of people in society presented in a World Bank paper from 1992. Here, popular participation is described as "a process by which people, especially disadvantaged people, influence decisions that affect them" [Bhatnagar etal, 1992, annex 2].
Seen from a democratic perspective, excluded groups have a right to participate without being discriminated against [Held 1996; King and Stoker 1996]. And those who are, in fact, ostracised from democratic rights due to, for example, oppression and domination by other groups in society might only have possibilities of being "included" if they are provided with special opportunities. Besides, as Anne Philips argues, "those who have experienced inequality, marginality or exclusion are likely to be the best judges of what now needs to be done" [King and Stoker 1996, p.l18].
The fact that local government can be based on small constituencies could make it accessible to disadvantaged groups - ethnic minorities, lower castes or women. Local government could also be considered an instrument for mobilising female representation and participation in public/political life. One thought is that the division of labour between local and central government can be reflected in the association between women and local government - because the functions delegated to the local governments in many cases overlap with traditional areas of female concern. A considerable proportion of local government activity relates, for example, to the needs of children, education, health and 'social services for weaker groups in society, water supply and sanitation [King and Stoker 1996; Rondinelli 1983]. Hence, from this point of view, participation embracing particular groups in society can be asserted.
Nevertheless, in the process of favouring some groups in society and claiming that participation solely concerns them, other groups in society are accordingly excluded from the process of participation. This could be regarded as non-democratic. The definition of participation in the World Bank Paper mentioned earlier, was criticised for its particular concern for disadvantaged groups in society. The critics stated that " ... the concept of participation should not be limited just to disadvantaged people ... focusing on disadvantaged people results in a class biased definition" [Bhatnagar eta I., 1992 Annex 2]. King and Stoker sum up such reasoning by saying that, for a local government to be socially representative, it requires equality of opportunity to stand for election or, for that matter, taking part in any other political activities - regardless of the social group to which a person belongs [King and Stoker 1996].
Participation - in What?
Participation means different things in different situations, and some would argue that it has more importance in some situations than in others [Birgergard 1990]. Theorists of political science advocate that participation is of great importance in decision making, because it is in decisionmaking that democracy is exercised. Hence, when participation refers to the elected representatives of local governments, the most important aspect is decision-making [Pateman 1970; Huntington 1976; Held 1996; Stoker and King 1996]. Also, a crucial aspect of participation in relation to local government is the participant's [elected representatives'] control of financial resources [Parker 1995; Bennett 1990; Birgergard 1990]. Both concepts will be addressed be- low.
David Held writes that"...it is highly significant that participation in decision making is much more extensive the more it is related to issues that directly affect people's lives, and the more those affected can be confident that their input into decision-making will actually count; that is, will be weighted equitably with others and will simply not be side-stepped or ignored by those who wield greater power" [Held 1996, p. 176].
M.A. Institutional Development, NCG, Denmark.
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