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Penetrating localities: participatory development and pragmatic politics in rural Andhra Pradesh, India

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posted on 2023-06-08, 13:57 authored by Benjamin Powis
This research sets out to explore the interface between the new politics of localisation and the political process in India. Governments and donors have increasingly emphasised the locality as the primary unit of development and politics. This new trajectory has been manifest in the increase of community-based organisations and mechanisms of participatory governance at the local level. From the late 1990s, the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh emerged as one of the most important examples of this new developmental politics and this research sets out to explore how local dynamics changed as a result. Political economy approaches tend to focus on state-periphery relations in terms of interest groups or vote banks. By contrast, this research found the village to be an enduring unit in the political system through which political identity manifests itself through three features. First, participation in local elections is driven by common forces of politics of parties, caste and corruption but its outcome is dependent on the specific context at the village level. Second, new participatory institutions created through state policy were found to merge with informal practices at the local level and produce a complex interplay between the new local and state identities. Third, analysis of leadership found evidence of a well-defined system of organisation within party groups at the village level, which were shaped not by party institutions but by the inner workings of village politics. These findings give cause to reassess the way in which we understand policy and political change. I do so by expanding on Skocpol's polity approach, which focused attention on the dynamic interplay of policy and social structure. Drawing on elements of the 'political development' theory, the concept of a ‘developing polity’ approach is elaborated on, to better explain the complex interplay between local and higher level politics. These findings have implications for understanding both political change in India and development strategy. The macro-perspective on the decay of political institutions is contrasted with a local perspective that finds evidence of the vitality of party politics at the village level. This has a number of important implications for development, both in terms of the way in which we analyse participation and the way in which participatory development can be translated into political change


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