The panchayati raj system will be discussed in this chapter as an illustration of a significant effort toward decentralised and grassroots democracy.
The Indian Constitution, the cornerstone of Indian democracy, is what we examine first. We concentrate on its core principles and take a quick look at how the Constitution was created, using brief excerpts from the debates that represented various points of view.
Second, we examine the Panchayat Raj system, which is the foundation of a functioning democracy.
Democracy and Local governance
Direct and representative democracies comprise the two main types of democracies. In a direct democracy, all citizens can take part in making public decisions without the involvement of elected or appointed officials.
With its size and complexity, modern society provides few opportunities for direct democracy. The most popular type of democracy today is representative democracy, in which voters choose representatives to create laws, enact policies, and run programmes for the common good. A representative democracy exists in ours.
There is a growing sentiment that participation in democracy should occur more frequently and not just once every five years. Decentralized government and participatory democracy have thus both gained popularity.
A democratic system known as "participatory democracy" allows for group participation in the making of important decisions.
Democracy is a system in which the general populace has a say in how the government operates and elects its representatives.
CONSTITUTION OF INDIA
Democracy is not a modern concept; it has existed for a very long time.
Democracy is a combination of modern ideas drawn from the colonial past and traditional ideas drawn from folklore and epics. Traditional plays and stories, as well as the epics and folklore, have provided examples of democratic behaviour.
Indian National Congress: The largest party held meetings all over the country. The idea of Pooma Swaraj was born during the Karachi Session of 1931, which was significant. Fundamental rights were taken from this document, also known as the Karachi Resolution, in which ideas were put together and later incorporated into the constitution.
Constitutional drafting and the Constitutent Assembly
A History of Constitutional Assembly Debates The elections were held in July 1946. The Expert Committee of the Indian National Congress introduced a resolution in the Constituent Assembly in August 1946. This contained the proclamation that India shall be a Republic and that all Indians shall be guaranteed the declared social, economic, and political justice.
On issues of social justice, there were spirited discussions about whether the state should be constrained to perform only certain prescribed government functions. The discussion topics included the right to employment, social security, land reform, property rights, and panchayat organisation.
Competing Interests: Social Change and the Constitution
One aspect of the plurality is the population's multireligious and multicultural makeup, which includes distinct tribal cultural streams. The Indian people are divided into many categories. Culture, religion, and caste all have different effects on how people are divided into urban and rural areas, rich and poor people, and literate and illiterate people.
However, there are a few fundamental goals outlined in the Constitution that are generally accepted in the Indian political community as being blatantly just. These include eradicating caste systems, reducing poverty, and taking proactive measures to treat all groups equally.
It is interesting that the Constituent Assembly was fully aware of the complexity and plurality at the time the Constitution was being drafted, but it was determined to guarantee social justice.
Constitutional norms and social justice: interpretation to aid social justice
Knowing the distinction between justice and the law is important. The power of the law is its essence. Laws are laws because they have the power to compel compliance. It is supported by state authority. Fairness is the cornerstone of justice.
A hierarchy of authorities underlies the operation of any legal system. The Constitution is the fundamental standard from which all other laws and authorities flow.
The Supreme Court is the highest court and the final arbiter of constitutional interpretation. The Supreme Court has made numerous significant improvements to the Constitution's Fundamental Rights.
The Constitution is more than just a list of social justice dos and don'ts. It has the potential to broaden the definition of social justice.
Because it is based on fundamental social justice principles, the Constitution has the power to benefit people. For instance, K. Santhanam proposed an amendment to the Constituent Assembly that would have codified the Directive Principle on village panchayats. After more than 40 years, it was made a constitutional requirement with the passage of the 73rd Amendment in 1992.
Additionally, social movements have helped courts and authorities interpret rights and principles in accordance with the current understanding of social justice.
THE PANCHAYATI RAJ AND THE CHALLENGES OF RURAL SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION
IDEALS OF PANCHAYATI RAJ
The goal is to ensure a healthy and functional democracy at the village or grassroots level. The concept of grassroots democracy is not foreign to our nation, but in a society marked by glaring inequalities, participation in democratic affairs is restricted on the basis of gender, caste, and class.
During the constitution's drafting, panchayats were not mentioned. Several members at this point expressed their sorrow, anger, and disappointment over this situation.
Dr Ambedkar made the case, drawing on his own rural upbringing, that the upper castes and local elites were so deeply ingrained in society that local self-government would only mean further exploitation of the oppressed masses of Indian culture.
Gandhiji had a special affection for the idea of local government. In his vision of a village as an autonomous entity managing its own affairs, gram-swarajya was seen as the ideal model to be carried on after independence.
But it wasn't until 1992 that the 73rd Constitutional Amendment ushered in grass-roots democracy or decentralised governance. The Panchayati Raj Institutions were granted constitutional status by this act (PRIs). Local self-government organisations in rural and municipal areas must now hold elections every five years.
In all elected positions of local bodies in both rural and urban areas, one-third of the total seats were reserved for women under the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution. 17 percent of these seats are set aside for women from the scheduled castes and tribes.
This amendment is significant because it gave women voting rights and decision-making authority for the first time. Women are only allowed to hold one-third of the seats in gramme panchayats, village panchayats, municipalities, city corporations, and district boards.
Panchayat powers and responsibilities
Panchayats have four responsibilities:
1. Create plans and schemes for economic development
2. To impose and collect village taxes, duties, and other revenues
3. To advocate for programmes and plans to ensure social justice.
4. To assist in the transfer of governmental duties, particularly those involving finances to local authorities.
Being Socially Responsive
• Ensure that births, deaths, and burial grounds are registered; promote cattle facilities; and provide family planning and child care.
• Economic development includes the building of roads, structures, wells, tanks, ponds, schools, colleges, small-scale industries, and irrigation systems.
• The panchayat uses the revenue from taxes and duties for the benefit of the village.
• Social justice: women are protected, SC/ST people are cared for, proper social justice is important, and the government's recommendations are carried out.
Some states have established Nyaya panchayats. They are qualified to hear some minor civil, criminal, and administrative disputes. They are permitted to impose fines but not sentences. These village courts have had a lot of success in mediating settlements between disputing parties.
Political systems of tribes
There is a long history of grassroots democratic operation in many tribal areas.
For instance, each of the three major ethnic tribal groups—the Khasis, the Jaintias, and the Garos—has its own long-standing political structures.
These political institutions operated at different levels, including the village level, clan level, and state level, and were generally well-developed.
However, tribal institutions in and of themselves need not necessarily be democratic in their structure and operation, as sociologist Tiplut Nongbri points out.
Because despite the strong egalitarian ethos that characterised tribal societies, there is still some degree of stratification.
In addition to open intolerance of women, tribal political institutions also exhibit sharp distortions brought about by social change, making it difficult to distinguish between those that are traditional and those that are not.
Inequality and Democratization
In a society with a long history of caste, community, and gender inequality, democratisation is not simple.
It is not surprising that in many instances, members of specific groups, communities, or castes of the village are not included or informed about meetings and activities of the village given this unequal and undemocratic social structure.
An organisation dedicated to obtaining legitimate control of the government through an electoral process may be referred to as a political party.
A political party is an organisation that was created with the intention of gaining governmental control and using that control to advance a particular agenda. Political parties are founded on particular conceptions of society and what it should be.
Political parties who take up their cause in a democratic system also represent the interests of various groups. Various interest groups will attempt to sway political parties.
Interest Groups are formed to advance particular interests in the political sphere. They primarily work by lobbying legislators.
Some groups may decide to start an alternative party if they feel like their interests are not being represented.
Or they create pressure groups and engage in government lobbying.
Pressure Group Not all groups will be able to influence the government with the same level of access or effectiveness.
Some contend that the idea of pressure groups understates the influence that social groups like class, caste, or gender have over others in a society.
They believe it would be more accurate to say that the state is controlled by the dominant class or classes.
Additionally, social movements and pressure groups are still crucial to democracy.