Apologies if posted already... I am going to quote in the entire article..err blog.... I do not agree with what the article says but want to get a feel of what we all believe in... Socialism or a Market driven democracy and where Hazare stands?
Could Ralegan Siddhi hold the key to India’s future or is it a relic of the past?
This obscure corner of rural Maharashtra, home to a few thousand inhabitants, is in the spotlight thanks to the celebrity surrounding its most famous resident, Anna Hazare, champion of the Jan Lokpal or people’s anti-corruption watchdog bill.
I’ve argued previously that the bill won’t accomplish its stated goals and is a distraction rather than a cure to corruption.
Leaving that debate aside, the methods of Mr. Hazare and a small group of trusted aides and advisors, widely known as “Team Anna,” have been questioned by many commentators as well as the government. Mr. Hazare’s methods are seen by some as jeopardizing the functioning of parliamentary democracy by trying to impose the will of a few on the many.
But it is worth recalling that it all began in Ralegan Siddhi, a drought-ridden and impoverished village characterized by alcoholism and social deprivation. In what is now almost a textbook example of grassroots, sustainable and equitable development, Mr. Hazare, upon his return to the village in 1975, along with his fellow villagers, managed to transform it into one featuring sustainable water conservation and management, abundant agricultural output, and high human development. Much of this happened within a decade.
Could such an experience be replicated nationwide? And what methods did Mr. Hazare employ to achieve this?
A study by economist Aasha Kapur Mehta, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, and based on field research and conversations with Mr. Hazare, painstakingly documents how this was accomplished.
Look at a few representative statistics. In the decade following Mr. Hazare’s arrival on the scene, per capita income in Ralegan Siddhi increased eightfold. From having a school that only went up to grade 4, high school completion rates are now over 85%. The infant mortality rate in 2007 was 27.42 per 1,000 live births, significantly lower than the national average of 50 in 2009.
Equally impressive, the village made great strides towards both gender equality and social inclusion, with Dalits now fully integrated in the community. Professor Mehta told me via e-mail that when she returned recently with several government officials, Ralegan Siddhi “left a lasting impression” on them in terms of the progress the village has made.
As the Mehta study and other accounts make clear, a great deal of the success is owed to Mr. Hazare’s personal charisma and galvanizing force, which allow him to rely heavily on unpaid volunteer labor or “Shramadaan” and a “team” spirit which puts community over self-interest.
The Hindu religious ethos is central to this concept of community. Strikingly Mr. Hazare’s work in Ralegan Siddhi began by using his personal funds to rebuild the local temple, which won the admiration and affection of the villagers and paved the way for his further reforms.
And where persuasion and cajoling don’t work, Mr. Hazare has not hesitated to use coercion and shaming. In the case of the village’s two-child policy, reflecting Mr. Hazare’s support for family planning, benefits from various government programs were denied by the “gram sabha”, or village council, to those families not falling in line. In another instance, when youths violated the village’s prohibition on alcohol, Mr. Hazare publicly flogged them with his army belt.
This particular combination of charm and brutality — Mr. Hazare acts almost as a “benevolent dictator” in the village, an incongruous blend of Mahatma Gandhi and Chairman Mao — is difficult to replicate and perhaps sits uneasily within India’s pluralistic democracy.
Economists and political scientists have long debated whether a democracy such as India’s or an autocratic government such as China’s is best able to deliver economic development. The conventional view for years was that an autocratic system was better able to marshal resources, while the competing interests within a democracy would be unable to do so. India’s recent success has unsettled that conventional wisdom.
His personal charm aside, the evidence suggests which side of this divide Mr. Hazare falls on. Activist Mukul Sharma, in field research on Ralegan Siddhi, quotes a village “sarpanch” or leader of the village council: “Whatever Anna says, we do. The whole village follows his words. Anna’s orders work like the army.”
The reliance on altruism and volunteerism with a dose of coercion goes against the grain of India’s post-liberalization market economy, which works more along the lines of laissez-faire. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, famously termed this process the “invisible hand,” whereby the social good, suitably regulated, arises from the healthy competition of individual self-interest. This market-driven approach is anathema to Mr. Hazare, who has always emphasized the Gandhian notion of self-sufficiency at the level of the village, rather than commerce, trade, and specialization which are the bases of the modern economy.
So does the success of Ralegan Siddhi mean that Mr. Hazare’s village-led model of grassroots development, with a dose of mild authoritarianism, is a better way forward for rural India?
The answer has to lie in whether this is a model that can be used elsewhere or whether it relies solely on the character of its architect.
A nearby village, Hivre Bazar, has attempted and succeeded in reproducing that system.
Yet, otherwise, the movement has failed to take off. Why?
The crux of the matter is that what fit the particular socio-cultural and economic conditions of Ralegan Siddhi in 1975 may not translate so easily to the nation as a whole today. The combination of a charismatic leader and a communitarian approach to development seems increasingly at odds with the heightened aspirations of individuals unshackled by economic liberalization.
Indeed, some residents of Ralegan Siddhi itself have expressed such dissatisfaction. Overall, the consensual and paternalistic approach that has served Mr. Hazare so well in transforming the life and economy of the village sits uneasily within the framework of India’s contemporary market-driven democracy.