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Engaging with the political: examining the interface of NGOs, Panchayati Raj institutions and poor people in two Indian states

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:20 authored by Sunita Abraham-Talks
This thesis is a study of the interface of NGOs, local government institutions and poor people. It uses the experiences of poor people as a lens to examine the nature and consequences of the interactions between these elements, identify the factors that influence the dynamics and outcomes at the intersection, and assess the intervention and impact of NGOs that work at the grassroots on issues relating to local government. The thesis builds on existing literature that analyses these interactions, and makes a contribution to the debates on NGO relationships with politics, democracy and local government. The study uses mixed-research methods and an interdisciplinary framework to compare and assess the experiences of poor people in rural India with respect to their interactions with Panchayati Raj Institutions and NGOs, within sixteen case-study gram panchayats. It covers the time period 1994 to 2006, and examines four grassroots- NGOs in the two states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The experiences of the poor are analysed along two dimensions – political capabilities and material benefits. Patterns and trends are identified through a systematic comparison of the sixteen casestudies. The research reveals that apart from the two factors that formed the initial focus of the study (the nature of NGO interventions and political opportunity spaces), the intensity and pattern of interactions is moulded by the presence of four other factors - the nature of democratic institutions; the strategies, actions and collective strength of sangha (group associated with NGO) members; nature of political competition; and the content and extent of implementation of the Janmabhoomi programme. The thesis demonstrates that the extent to which the interactions are beneficial for poor people is influenced by the interplay of these six key factors. It also brings out the importance of poor people actively engaging with politics, and argues that NGOs that choose to engage strongly with the political have the potential to facilitate wider societal change. In doing so, the thesis highlights the relevance of politics in the day-to-day life of poor people, and draws attention to the importance of leadership, advocacy and collective action.


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