Book Review: M. V. Nadkarni, N. Sivanna and Lavanya Suresh, Decentralised Democracy in India: Gandhi’s Vision and Reality

Date01 December 2018
AuthorE. Venkatesu
Published date01 December 2018
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 317
nor to the classic studies of the Dravidian movement by Marguerite Ross Barnett and by Rajadurai and
Geetha, and it seems to end around 2004. The framework set out by M. P. Singh invites a broad and a
descriptive account of the context of the politics of each of the states. And then, in practice, if not accord-
ing to the intentions of the project, different authors have generally focused on providing an analysis of
the history of the electoral/party politics. The extent to which there is discussion on ‘secularization,
federalization, economic liberalization and sustainable development’ varies a good deal from chapter to
chapter, and sometimes these themes appear hardly at all. The collection lacks a strong comparative
focus. Singh writes of the studies contained in the book, edited by Myron Weiner that, ‘No overarching,
systematic explanatory framework emerged [from them]’ (p. 3). The same might well be said of this
collection, and it is not at all surprising that the short conclusion is quite vacuous.
By comparison, several of the earlier studies of state politics had a strong comparative focus. Frankel
and Rao, in the studies that they brought together in two volumes published in 1989 and 1990, were
concerned with the extent and implications of ‘the decline of dominance’. Atul Kohli, in work carried on
over more than three decades, and the present author, in several studies, have been interested in the
implications of differences in state politics for economic development and distribution. Scholars in the
book, edited by Rob Jenkins were interested to analyse the variations across states in relation to several
themes, including differences in responses to economic liberalization.
The comparative focus of these studies, and others, is both their strength, and perhaps in some sense
a weakness, as well, since they do not necessarily provide a through-going history of the politics of the
states with which they deal. It is here, that the book under review makes its contribution, for the best of
the individual studies do provide a historical account of the development of the politics of the state or
territory with which they are concerned, generally focusing on the story of the rise and fall of different
political parties, and offering some analysis of the social and economic context, with comment on
specific ‘local’ themes (such as the Telangana movement in the chapter on the old Andhra Pradesh,
deindustrialization in Bihar or social movements in Karnataka). In sum, the collection is more or less
useful, depending on which case the reader is interested in, but it falls far short of being the authoritative
volume that the editors aimed at.
John Harriss
Simon Fraser University, Canada
M. V. Nadkarni, N. Sivanna and Lavanya Suresh, Decentralised Democracy in India: Gandhi’s Vision and
Reality. New Delhi: Routledge. 2018. 420 pages. `1,295.
DOI: 10.1177/2321023018797798
The first part of this book is an attempt to bring back the neglected debate on the Gandhian idea of
a democratic decentralizing process in the context of a state, market and civil society paradigm, and
the second presents the historical narration of the functioning of local bodies in India. In the first three
chapters, the authors highlight the Gandhian notion of democratic decentralization while contesting
two frameworks: the ‘principle of subsidiarity’ and the ‘principal-agent theory’. The first one refers
to devolution of functions from citizens to community and community to local governance. The second
one is a top-down approach, emphasizing the centralized authority with an ‘agency’ at the local level
to carry forward the agenda of the centralized political system. From the authors’ perspective, these

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