Rural Local Self-Government in India: Ideological Nuances From Ripon to Jayaprakash Narayan, 1882-1964 (First Published in Vol.10, No.5, July, 1991)


  • P. C. Mathur Former Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur



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The establishment and termination of British Raj in India constitutes a very small time- slice in India’s very long efflorescent history of cultural continuity, but this short interlude certainly implanted several profound change- chains whose socio-economic and _ politico- administrative impacts are likely to continue to manifest for a long time to come. Valiant efforts by diligent historians notwithstanding’, socio- scientific analyses of the Rai chapter of the Indian history have not yet even begun in right earnest placing social scientists interested in making pre- Raj and post-Raj comparisons in a fix. The conceptual compasses of such social scientists are further befuddled on account of the overwhelming amount of continuities between British India and post-1947 India making it very difficult for social scientists to treat August 15, 1947 as a historical watershed, let alone being a date representing a precise terminal point of one epoch or chapter of Indian history.


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How to Cite

Mathur, P. C. (2022). Rural Local Self-Government in India: Ideological Nuances From Ripon to Jayaprakash Narayan, 1882-1964 (First Published in Vol.10, No.5, July, 1991). Journal of Rural Development, 40(2), 213–240.





In his highly readable and very insightful volume spanning 486 pages, Sumit Sarkar gives a list of ‘Further Readings’ covering 24 pages (i.e., nearly 5% of the total volume) but most of the references are to other fellow Historiographers although, given his ideological inclinations, he has tried to dig up to references to as many History-oriented Economists as he can with students of other Social Sciences like Sociology, Political Science and Public Administration being, more or less, conspicuous by their inattention towards micro-studies or macro-analysis of the Raj. For details, see Sumit Sarkar, Modern India 1885-1947 (Delhi: Mac Millan, India Limited, 1983).

Thus, even such an important benchmark as the date of the establishment of the British Ray is dated dissensually on different occasions by different Historians (even though the terminal point is known right down to the last second on account of Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous “tryst with destiny†speech) with 1707 i.e. the year of the death of the great Mughal emperor Aurangzeb being used in many textbooks even though at that time the British presence in India was restricted to a few trading stations whose fortifications were no match to the Mughal Raj.

For lucid socio-scientific analysis of change-chains operating in India after 1947 see S.C Dube, (Ed.), India Since Independence: A Social Report, 1947-72 (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1978).

cf. Sumit Sarkar, n.I: 1.

For details, see V.D.Mahajan, R.R. Sethi, British Rule in India and After (1707-1956), Delhi: S.Chand and Co., 1958.

cf. Sumit Sarkar, n.I: chapter II (“Political and Economic Structure 1885-1905: Imperial Structure and Policiesâ€): 12-42.

cf. Sumit Sarkar, n.1:19.

, For details, see Durga Das Basu, Introduction to the Constitution of India (New Delhi: Prentice Hall of India Private Limited, 1976).

, cf. R.V. Jathar, Evolution of Panchayati Raj in India (Dharaar: J.S.S. Institute of Economic Research, 1964): 14.

cf. Anil Seal, Locality, Province and Nation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973): 10 (we have taken this quotation from Sumit Sarkar, n.1:19).

cf. R.V. Jathar, n.9:15.

— cf. Sumit Sarkar, n. 1:19.

— cf. Anil Seal, quoted in Sumit Sarkar, n.|: 19.

P.C. Mathur, “Local Politicsâ€, in ICSSR Survey of Research in Political Science Vol. II (Political Process) (New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1901): 127-164.

For the full text of this Resolution, one may refer, M, Venkatarangiya and M. Pattabhiram (eds.), Local Government in India (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1970).

These included: (i) repeal of the Vernacular Press Act in 1081, (ii) raising of the age limit for the Indian Civil Service examination, (iii) appointment of Sir Romesh Chandra Dutt as Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court against British opposition, (IV) appointment and acceptance of the recommendations of the Hunter Commission on Education in 1882 (v) enactment of the First Factory Act in 1881, (vi) restoration of the Mysore gaddi to the Raja of Mysore and (vii) firm support to the principles of the Ibert Bill in 1883 even though some compromises had to be made with regard to some of its provisions in view of fury of adverse British reactions. Further, it is worth noting that a whole new generation of post-1947 Indians has grown up reading History texts which give Lord Ripon the credit for being “rightly called the father of Local SelfGovernment in the country†vide V.D. Mahajan, p.5:222 (Italics supplied).

cf. R.V. Jathar, n.9:16. It is worth noting that while elucidating the grounds on which opposition was mounted against Lord Ripon’s ideas, R.V. Jathar drily adds the following comments: “It is, however, surprising that the very same objections are raised even today by some persons against greater decentralizationâ€:16.

| We hope to document these rather harsh-sounding comparisons between an 1882 Resolution and 1957 Report in a full-length study of the text and context of the Report of the Balwantray Mehta Study Team which, has, so far, received adulatory references only on account .of its energetic implementation without a full-fledged evolution of the form and substance of its ideological articulation. For a preliminary exercise in this direction see, P.C. Mathur, “Sociological Dimensions of Panchayati Rajâ€, Indian Journal of Public Administration, Vol.X, No.l, Jan-March, 1964: 58-72.

Anil Seal, Locality, Province and Nation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973): 10 (Quoted from Sumit Sarkar, n.1:17).

cf. V.D. Mahajan, n.5:222.

= cf. R.V. Jathar, n.9:19.

Quoted in V.D. Mahajan, n.5:241.

Sir Henry Cotton quoted from Indian and Home Memories (1911) by R.V. Jathar, n.9:19.

= cf. R.V. Jathar, n.9:19.

Sumit Sarkar has noted that assessment of the British policies of ‘Repression, conciliation and Divide and Rule’ in the post-Curzon era has been unnecessarily overlaid with tediOUS debates about who originated a particular measure, the Liberal Scholar, John Morley or the Tory Viceroy, Lord Minto but the idea of Royal Commission on DecentralizatiOD is generally attributed to Morley with whom Indian Liberals like G.K. Gokhale enjoyed more fruitful contacts. G. K. Gokhale, in fact, submitted a detailed memorandum to this Commission.

For details, see R.V. Jathar, n.9:19.22.

cf. Rv. Jathar, n.9:22.

= cf. R.v. Jathar, n.9:22.

— cf. The History of the Trial of Warren Hastings (London: J. Debrett, 1796): 4 (quoted by H.D. Malaviya, Village Panchayats in India (New Delhi: All India Congress Committee, 1956): 146.

Ironically, B.R. Ambedkar too cited Sir Charles Metcalf's 1830 observations about the Indian village communities being “little republics†but proceeded to draw a conclusion from this fact which was diametrically opposite to that repeatedly drawn by INC activists during the twenties and thirties of the 20th century holding that these village republics have been “the ruination of Indiaâ€. Obviously, the final word on the Metcalf-Ambedkar debate has yet to be said but, to the best of our knowledge, no systematic empirical refutation of Ambedkar’s remarks has yet seen the light of the day although there is no dearth of communitarian ideologues like Jaya Prakash Narayan extolling the inherent virtues of the rural communities of India.

For details, see H.D. Malaviya, n.29:215-216.

cf. H.D. Malaviya, n.29:2234.

Referring to the 33rd INC session at Delhi in 1918 and its 34th session at Lahore in DecemberJanuary, 1919-20, H.D. Malaviya is frank enough to admit that the question of Village Panchayats did not figure at all at these sessions which were dominated by discussions on the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, cf. H.D. Malaviya, n.29:225226.

Fordetails, see R.V. Jathar, n.9:26-27.

cf. P.D. Kaushik., The Congress Ideology and Programme 1920-47 (Ideological Foundations of Indian Nationalism During the Gandhian Era) (Bombay: Allied Publishers Private Limited, 1964): 224-5.

For details, see P.D. Kaushik, n-35: 224.

Fora detailed discussion, see P.C. Mathur, “Politics of Rural Development in a Liberal Industrial State: Some Reflections on the Centripetal Tendencies and Development of Local SelfGovernment in Village Indiaâ€, a paper presented at the Seminar on “Explaining Indian Politics: Problems and Issues†organized by the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University at New Delhi on February 19-21, 1986. Modesty does not Prevent us from claiming a first-use patent on the term “Liberal Industrial state†which we hope to deploy in our socio-scientific analyses in the years to come.

D.G. Tendulkar, Mahatma, Vol. 11:17 (quoted from P.D. Kaushik, n.35:225).

For a detailed elucidation of the Gandhian ideology of re-modelling free India in terms of communitarian Indian villages in the context of the role, structure and functional autonomy actually enjoyed by PRIs in post-1947 India see, P.C. Mathur “Economic Change and Panchayati Raj Autonomy in India†in Ramesh K.Arora (Ed.), Administrative Change in India Jaipur: Aalekh Publishers, 1974): 1920-20.

One segment of political activists which dominated India’s freedom struggle and which stepped into the gaddis vacated by the British governing elite would, no doubt, vehemently question the proposition that “India†was a remote political entity for India’s rural masses who were as much imbued with anti-Raj nationalistic fervour as anyone else, but we would humbly like to suggest that empirical researches conducted by Sociologists, Cultural Anthropologists, Political Scientists and Social Psychologists have revealed vast gaps and lags as far as the Indian villagers’ perceptions of the social and spatial coordinates of India as a modern Nation-State are concerned. The existence of such dimness does not, of course, mean that Indian villagers are totally in dark about what happens in the Parliament, the Rashtrapati Bhavan or the Prime Minister’s Office; but it is equally naive to postulate that seventy years ago, the Indian villagers responded to a Gandhi's call because they were seething with anger against the British Raj as a non-national imposition sustained by imperialistic political centripetal structures. The entire theme of “appeals of nationalism,†in other words, lies open as a virgin territory for Social Scientists as far as India (pre-1947 or post-1947) is concerned.

Nosingle full-length study comparable in nature and scope to John Mathai, Village Government in British India (London, 1915) is available for the Princely States as a whole, but all the general “all-India†LSGIs studies agree about the above-mentioned trends.

— cf. P.O. Kaushik, n.35: 270-1.

For details, see P.D. Kaushik, n.35: 272-6.

_ R. Coupland, India, A Restatement (Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1947): 159 (Quoted from P.D. Kaushik, n.35: 274).

— cf. V.D. Mahajan, n.5fi333.

M.K. Gandhi, Harijan, December 12, 1947: Quoted from Association of Voluntary Agencies for Rural Development, Panchayati Raj as the Basis of Indian Polity: An Exploration into the Proceedings of the Constituent Assembly (New Delhi: AVARD, 1962): 15.


RN, Jathar, n.9:29-30.

RV. Jathar, n.9:44-45.

RV. Jathar, n.9:45.

For details of various types Of anti-poverty administrative interventions see (1) Hoshiar Singh (ed), Rural Development in India (Jaipur: Printicell Publishers, 1985) and (2) Rakesh Hooja Administrative Interventions for Rural Development (Jaipur: Rawat Publishers, 1986).

— cf. P.C. Mathur, n. 18.

cf. P.C. Mathur, Panchayati Raj: The Political Dynamics of Devolution and Retraction (Delhi: Konark Publishers Private Limited, 1990).

— cf.P.C. Mathur, Social Bases of Indian Politics Jaipur. Aalekh Publishers, 1985).

|The Committee on Panchayati Raj Institutions appointed by the Government of India has in, any case, covered this ground authoritatively in 1978. For details see, P.C. Mathur, “Development Reorientation of Panchayati Raj in India: An Explanatory Note on the Report of the Committee on Panchayati Raj Institutions†in Hoshiar Singh (ed), n.50: 60-81.

Fora detailed analysis of the transformation involved in the spillover of pre-1959 LSGls into post -1959 PRIS see, P.C. Mathur, “Political Dynamics of the Institutional Pendulum of Democratic Decentralization: An Introductory Overviewâ€, a paper presented at the National Seminar on “Decentralization, Participation, and Institutional Democracy in Rural India†organized by the Department of Political Science, University of Rajasthan, at Jaipur on April 4-7, 1990:58 (mimeographed).

For a more detailed discussion, see P.C. Mathur, “Decentralization of the Planning Process, Econometric Optimization and Democratic Optimism in India, 1959-1989†in Rakesh Hooja and P.C. Mathur (Eds), District and Decentralized Planning in India (Jaipur: Rawat Publishers, forthcoming).

— cf. P.C. Mathur, “Rethinking Developmentâ€, Social Change, Vol. 15, No.4, December, 1985: 34-38.

Vide Jaya Prakash Narayan, Why Socialism (Benaras: Janamandal Press, 1934).

Jaya Prakash Narayan, Towards Struggle (Bombay: Padma Publications, 1946): 85-86 (quoted from V.P. Varma, Modern Indian Political Thought, (Agra: Lakshmi Narain Agarwal, 1980): 526.

— cf. JP’s “Thirteen Point Scheme of constructive work for Gramraj†vide, V.P. Varma, n.5d:5267.

For details, see V.P. Varma, n.58: 526.

— cf. Jaya Prakash Narayan, A Plea for Reconstruction of Indian Polity (Varanasi: Akhil Bharat Seva Sangh, 1959).

— cf. Rajni Kothari, “Jayaprakash Narayan’s Thesis: Report of a Discussionâ€, Economic Weekly, 9 April, 1960.

— For details of the proceeding and proposals of this Seminar, see All India Panchayat Parishad Seminar on Fundamental Problems of Panchayati Raj (New Delhi: AIPP, 1969).

Ibid: 82

P.C. Mathur, “Putting the Horse before the cart: A prefatory analysis of the constitutional Institutionalization of Panchayats in 1989†in Ram Pande (Ed.), Panchayati Raj Raj Jaipur: Jaipur Publishing House, 1989): 97-104.

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