young man went on to become the Mayor of Calcutta city and
subsequently became the president of Indian National Congress.
He was none other than Netaji Subash Chandra Bose! I am
afraid to recount this story for fear that our criminals
masquerading as netas will claim the same right to be in
power even when they are jailed for their crimes!
episode illustrates the degree of autonomy enjoyed by local
governments in colonial times. Contrast this with today's
scenario where elected representatives have hardly any authority
or responsibility. They are reduced to figure heads. But
it is important to realize that the 'local government' be
it a village panchayat, mandal, zilla parishad or municipality
is constitutionally as much a government as a state or union
one looks back at the evolution of self-governments in India,
the elected provincial governments were formed only in 1937,
subsequent to the enactment of Government of India Act,
1935. And the elected union government assumed office only
in 1946. But the local governments have a much longer history.
Madras province had a three-tier system of administration
comprising of local governments as early as 1884, which
took a much more concrete shape in 1920 after the enactment
of the Madras District Boards Act. That means we had substantial
local governance for more than 80 years, even when we were
under colonial rule. Many national leaders rose to fame
through their work in municipalities.
panchayats have been powerful and self-contained for thousands
of years. The Uttarameru inscription of early chola period
dating back about 1000 years is a breathtaking testimony
to the power of the Little Republics in India.
in independent India, even though the directive principles
and the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments envisage
the local governments as genuine units of self-governance,
they remain as nothing more than skeletons with no real
this context, we at LOK SATTA along with the Federation
for Empowerment of Local Governments (which is a representative
body of elected and former local government representatives
from across the political spectrum) is launching a state-wide
campaign to collect ten million (one crore) endorsements
in support of local government empowerment. The campaign
will be symbolically launched on the 9th August - Quit India
day and will culminate on the 2nd of October , the birth
anniversary of Gandhiji, who fought all his life for true
is the first time such a large non-partisan campaign is
being undertaken in any state in India for a constructive
and democratic issue. It is not our claim that local government
leaders are pious and moral, and state and union governments
are immoral. People are the same everywhere. But even the
best intentions of a centralized government can never be
translated into public good, given the many barriers between
the citizen and state. Even a bad local leader can be held
to account by collective assertion of citizens. That is
why even a bad local leader is better than a 'good' distant
leader in a centralized government. The fight today is between
genuine local empowerment and centralized mis-governance.
All of us, citizens, have high stakes in this struggle.