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a book review

a book review

kewal krishan sethi

from decentralized government to decentralized governance

this is a book edited by a v satish chandra, professor in department of political science, osmania university (published by viva books, 2017). i got the book with high hopes. the subject of decentralization is a dominant item of discussions at present. here is what i got, no matter what i bargained for.

it is a record of a seminar held in hyderabad. the front page assures us that “it features the top minds of the country deliberating and discussing” but it also takes care to tell us that “ not about laying definitive paradigms of either governance or development”.

there you have in a nut shell the essence of the seminar. twelve people come and speak to each other without arriving at any conclusions. i hoped at least some new deep thinking will be revelaed in the brain storming session of this typethrowing light on the subject under discussion.. unfortunately it was not to be. in a seminar, the thanks giving person said, “when we came to this seminar, we were confused about the issue. of course, we are still confused, but at a much higher level”. even this cannot be said about this book. there are just rambling thoughts, not coordinated effort at analysis, often marred by personal whims and prejudices.

for instance there is a reference to technology by one of the speakers. it says “technology can be useful against corruption but has it been useful or has anyone tried to make it useful”(p 91).  there are no answers. but then another speaker says,” in the coming year this (the role of biometrics) would be a smooth technology…… so this is an automated seamless technology where you have no scope for interference or corruption”(p 84).  between the two, you can pick and choose. then again “is technology neutral”. you have two opinions. one says it is not and refers to contraceptives wich is not gender neutral while another talks about technology being a great equalizer (p 81).

a geographer is also part of the group. it is not that a geographer cannot talk about economics but where is the necessity to head his talk as ‘decentralized governance and development – the narrative of a geographer’. reference to geography occurs in these words,”…keeping these two very broad questions of geography – exactly at what point of time, at what location, have powers been transferred”.(p27) by reference to time, i hope it does not become a narrative by a historian.

now to the main theme – the 73rd and the 74th amendment. views are varied. one says, “74th constitutional amendment even in its own ideal itself has not actually transferred any powers; what has it done is to give more powers to the state government”. (p27)

another instance. a professor from pune says that “ambedkar had said that panchayati raj will lead to empowerment of upper castes … he was dead against panchayati raj”.(p100).  having said that she does not refer to panchayati raj again. she talks of casino `capitalism and disaster capitalism and shock doctrine but not of what relevance these have to the question under discussions.

it is not that you cannot find bits of interest in a discourse like this. savour, for example, this aspect, “in this country we find a surplus economy, but deficit politics and deficit governance, deficit policy, deficit leadership, deficit democracy” (p7).  or again, “they have a concept – delegation and sometimes they call it decentralization”(p 9).

in short ,this was a conference without any focus, without any specific issue to be discussed. it was why one person talks of refugee problem in bengal and assam while other talks of the movements in kashmir and the north east and the third talks of conflict areas in jharkhand, odisha, and chhattisgarh. it was a paid holiday and i hope that every one had good time. as far as outcome is concerned, it has never been our priority but i am surprised that such a free wheeling discussion has been put into a book priced at rs. 695. probably the institutes which these scholars represented would buy it for memory sake. for the rest it will be an acquisition of doubtful value.

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