Later this week, the country will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the constitutional amendments that made it mandatory for the creation of panchayats—the village-level bodies that deliver self-governance. Most may not be aware that this could well have been the eve of its 25th anniversary, but for the three-vote defeat that the amendments, proposed by Rajiv Gandhi in 1989, suffered in the Rajya Sabha. The narrative of the defeat of the original amendments captures the chequered progress that India has had with self-governance, a process that predates the British colonization of India.

Given the new-found enthusiasm for inclusion and the near collapse of governance, particularly at the centre, the forthcoming anniversary is an apt enough moment to reflect on the experience of local governments and also acknowledge the emerging winds of change—inspired by Aadhaar-based direct benefits transfer and the new instruments of accountability such as the right to information—that may, despite trenchant resistance, yet help realize the cherished dream of our founding fathers to empower from below. Read More