Today’s Hindu features an article by two academics from the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) which reports the findings of an interesting study conducted by the institute. The question the researchers were concerned with was the reach of the Indian state in rural India, and their report focused on the role of panchayats in three states (West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka). Although the empirical and research basis for the study seems thin (a fact that the authors draw attention to at the outset), its conclusions suggest that the importance of panchayats may be growing owing to a number of factors. The study uses techniques of ethnography, and the short overview of its methods, contents and conclusions provided in the article make for interesting – and intriguing – reading. (The full paper, if available, should make for even more interesting reading, but the website of the MIDS does not seem to provide links to the listed working papers). The authors make a compelling argument that the issue is crying out for far more elaborate study and analysis. Although Panchayati Raj was institutionalised by the 73rd Constitutional Amendment more than fifteen years ago, legal scholars have not focused upon this issue, especially in more recent years. As the article suggests, observers of – and participants in – India’s political and legal system may be ignoring panchayati raj institutions at their own peril.
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