Aiyar hails Rajiv for panchayat raj

The Congress leader, a former MP and diplomat, delivered a lecture titled ‘Democracy and Decentralisation’ in Hyderabad

Hyderabad: One of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s greatest, but mostly unknown, achievements was to set up the panchayat raj system in the country, said former Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar.

The Congress leader, a former MP and diplomat, delivered a lecture titled ‘Democracy and Decentralisation’ in the city on Saturday.

Tracing the history of how the panchayat raj system was established, Aiyar said Mahatma Gandhi had wanted the system but Dr B.R. Ambedkar was against it. When the Constitution was drafted, it had only a single line on panchayat raj, Aiyar said.

Aiyar said after most state governments did not implement the system properly. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru came up with a model panchayat raj Act. But, after Nehru’s death, the system became defunct in five to 10 years.

Rajiv Gandhi, when he was Prime Minister, toured nearly every part of rural India with an aim to firmly establish panchayat raj. Aiyar, who was joint secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office and Rajiv Gandhi’s schoolmate and friend, accompanied him on these tours.

“Rajiv wouldn’t consider who was in power. In Andhra Pradesh, he travelled with NTR to understand the rural governance system while in Karnataka he was very impressed by Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde, who was against the Congress. He mixed all his experiences to produce the ‘amrit’ of the panchayat raj system, and he made it constitutionally obligatory,” Aiyar said.

Aiyar said there were 2.5 lakh village panchayats, and 34 lakh people were elected to them of whom 14 lakh were women. “India has more elected women than the rest of the world put together, but they are all poor and from SC/ST categories. It’s a tragedy that this great achievement is so little known because women of upper classes don’t get adequate representation in the Assembly,” he said.

Mohan Guruswamy, former adviser to the finance ministry in the Vajpayee government, who spoke at the event, said one of the government’s biggest expenditures was the high salaries of government employees due to which not enough people were employed to work in grassroots governance.

Guruswamy said the share of government expenditure in local government in India had remained at 11 per cent in spite of all the talk of decentralisation. “When I travel, after I go just 5 km on the highway, I immediately see there is no government, and there this plastic everywhere — in the drains and on the streets,” he said.

He described an incident which he said showed the attitude towards decentralisation. When he was working in the government, he had presented a paper on decentralisation to the CMs of all states. “After the presentation, then Chief Minister of Gujarat Keshubhai Patel had remarked ‘If we implement all of this, who will come to us?’,” Guruswamy said.

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