Mani Shankar Aiyar, former Union Minister and four times Parliament Member from Tamil Nadu, said India has elected women representatives whose number is more than the total elected women representatives all over the world. This revolution was possible because of the sincere efforts by Rajiv Gandhi when he was Prime Minister to establish Panchayat Raj system on a strong footing.
Speaking on ‘Democracy and Decentralisation’ at Guruswamy Centre in Secuderabad on Saturday, 8 May, Mani Shankar said Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister visited all the States in the country except Sikkim to study conditions in the villages. The lecture was organized by S Jaipal Reddy Memorial Foundation. Guest speakers were Prof. Purushotham Reddy, former Head, Political Science Department, OU, and Mohan Guruswamy, former advisor to Finance Minister in Vajpayee Government.
The former union minister for Panchayat Raj, Mani Shankar Aiyar, said there are 2.5 lakh panchayats and 34 lakh members in India. Fourteen lakh of them are women. There is no considerable representation to women in Parliament and Assemblies, but in Panchayat Raj institutions, there is adequate representation, thanks to Rajiv Gandhi. Even after the amendments (73rd and 74th amendments passed by Parliament in 1993) were made, some leaders in Rajasthan and Haryana don’t allow uneducated women to occupy positions. WhenVasundhara Raje Scindia, was the chief minister of Rajasthan, only women with not more than two children were allowed to contest. Many sarpachs were denied the opportunity to contest again because of this condition. Fifty percent of the women representatives could not contest because of the stipulation of educational qualifications in Haryana. He mentioned NT Rama Rao and Ramakrishna Hegde, Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in 1980s who introduced their own reforms in Panchayat Raj system and said Rajiv used to confabulate with these non-Congress Chief Ministers to understand the reforms they introduced. Rajiv used to stop in villages and talk to the villagers about their impression of Gram Panchayats. He toured extensively in Godvari belt of Andhra Pradesh, he recalled.
Mani Shankar also reminded the audience of Balwant Rai Mehta Committee appointed by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1957 to study Panchayat Raj system. There was only single line in the fundamental rights of the Constitution on Panchayat Raj. The makers of the constitution thought only Centre and States to run the governments. It was because of the interest the first Prime Minister Nehru showed in Panchayat Raj system, it was introduced by all the State governments because all of them were run by the Congress party at that time and Nehru was the tallest leader of the party.
In fifteen States in India, 50 percent of seats in Panchayat Raj are reserved for women. This is a revolution. However, what is mandatory in the Constitution has been happening but what was recommendatory has not been implemented, Mani Shankar complained. 29 subjects are mentioned in the Constitution to be devolved to the Panchayats but most of the State don’t give away powers, he said. Functions, Finance and Functionaries are the three important F’s and the States must see that these powers are provided to the Gram Panchyats if the rural areas were to flourish.
In order to understand and improve Panchayat Raj system, Rajiv Gandhi had five meeting with about 600 District Magistrates/District Collectors of the country. One such meeting was held at NIRD (National Institute of Rural Development). Coimbatore, Jaipur, Bhopal and one Northastern State were venues for the rest of the meetings, the former minister said.
Rajiv Gandhi used to work throughout the day and attend the meeting of DMs/DCs at 3 am in the morning and it used to continue till 6 am. And by 8 am, he was ready for the day’s engagements. He toured north Tamil Nadu in the day, participated in procession in the evening and reached Coimbatore in night to attend DMs meeting, Mani Shankar Aiyar who was in Doon and Cambridge where Rajiv studies. He was senior to Rajiv by a couple of years but they were good friends (Mani Shankar wrote a book titled, ‘Rajiv, My Darling’). He had opportunity to work as diplomat before joining the foreign affairs department in the government. He was touring the country with Rajiv Gandhi and was present in all the meetings and tours to understand the Panchayat Raj system. He joked saying he also was touring for many hours in day and night with Rajiv and wondered where from the energy came to him. He said since the boss (Rajiv Gandhi) was moving, he had to accompany him.
Earlier, Mohan Guruswamy narrated his experience in Madhya Pradesh where he visited some Panchayats and found the government employees such as executive officers who is supposed to maintain the accounts dominating the elected woman sarpach who was asked to prepare tea and serve them to the officers and others. Prof. Purushotham Reddy spoke about the effluents and chemicals released by industries in Hyderabad causing great harm to the villages in downstream Musi River.
Village sarpanchs from Telangana attended the meeting. They had discussion with Mani Shankar Aiyar at the end of the meeting. The sarpachs complained that they have no powers and the TRS government has been treating them with disdain. There are no powers to the sarpachs and local MLAs dominate the show. The former Union Minister asked the sarpachs to file a petition in court of law as part of a fight for justice. He offered to help them fight saying they can depend on him for advice.