'Indian democracy belongs to crorepatis'
Shevlin SebastianFirst Published : 07 Jan 2010 05:32:00 AM ISTLast Updated :
In December, 1996, Murugesan, a Dalit, contested for the post of
president of Melavalavu panchayat, near Madurai, and won. The members
of the dominant community, the Kallars, were aghast and angry. "They
told Murugesan he would be taught a lesson," says Dr George Mathew,
founder-director of the Delhi-based Institute of Social Sciences.
On June 30, 1997, Murugesan and a few Dalits were travelling on a bus
from Madurai. About 2 km from Melavalavu, the bus was forcibly
More than 20 people attacked Murugesan and his companions. All were
"In many parts of India, people refuse to accept the empowerment of
Dalits, women and marginalised people," says Mathew. "They say, 'My
father, a high caste, sat on this chair. I will not allow anybody else
to sit on it.' Because of this feudalistic attitude, many suffer from
harassment at the grassroots level. Scores of people have also been
killed." Most state governments also want to kill off the panchayati
According to the 73rd Amendment of the Indian Constitution, 29
subjects like agriculture, irrigation, fishing, housing, roads and
water, have to be transferred to the panchayats, but so far only lip
service has been done.
"The fault lies with the politicians, the bureaucracy, the upper
castes, landlords and middlemen, like contractors," says Mathew. "How
can a few thousand powerful people manage this crowd of 30 lakh
elected representatives? They prefer to deal with a single MLA or the
bureaucracy. So they will not allow the panchayats to flourish." But
Mathew is all praise for Kerala, which has allowed decentralisation to
take place. "There is a culture of local government here, thanks to
forward-thinking leaders like EMS Namboodiripad, and social reformers
like Ayyankali and Sree Narayana Guru," he says. "Many government
departments have to work through the panchayats." Mathew is also happy
with the infrastructure.
"There are proper buildings and the offices are equipped with
computers and all the modern facilities," he says. In other states,
the panchayat offices are usually located in the homes of landlords.
People from lower castes are not allowed to enter.
There is no office equipment. Despite this, Mathew and the institute
have been propagating the need to develop local self-government. "If
power is not decentralised, it will lead to alienation," says Mathew.
"When that happens, people will resort to violence." Mathew says that
this is already happening. More than 200 districts in India are under
the control of the Naxalites. "Where are we heading?" he says. "The
people in the cities are going one way, while the rest of the country
is going somewhere else. We must ensure that the other India also
becomes developed." Mathew was in Kerala recently to deliver the Dr.
N. Parameswaran Nair Memorial Lecture at the Sree Narayana Guru
Institute of Science and Technology at North Paravoor. He spoke on
'Power to the people: where are we?' and sounded pessimistic.
"There are 150 MPs who have criminal antecedents," he says. "Out of
that, more than 100 are crorepatis.
Initially, these people did not have a fortune.
After two terms as MLA or MP, they become crorepatis. Can we call it a
democracy? The world might respect us because of our system, but,
fundamentally, our democracy is flawed," Mathew points out.Shevlin
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