ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Bureaucratic Rationality, Political Will, and State Capacity

MGNREGS in Undivided Andhra Pradesh

The successful implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in undivided Andhra Pradesh underlines the triumph of citizen formation over patron–client politics, aided by a democratic politics. This article argues that its success in Andhra Pradesh depended heavily on how the ideas within the rural development bureaucracy interacted with the political executive. This synergy engendered a state’s capacity to insulate a committed bureaucracy from powerful farmers and construction companies who had a clear interest in thwarting the programme. Elections can in a democracy elevate citizen concern over particularistic populism, when political will is matched by ideational conviction in the bureaucracy.

This study was undertaken prior to the formation of the state of Telangana, carved out of Andhra Pradesh on 2 June 2014. Hence, this article discusses MGNREGS in the context of undivided Andhra Pradesh. It may be noted that Nizamabad and Mahbubnagar districts, where we carried out field visits in 2013, are now located in Telangana. Wherever the article mentions Andhra Pradesh, it is the undivided Andhra Pradesh that is referred to.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), also referred to as NREGA, being implemented all over India, is one of the worlds largest employment guarantee schemes. Though its implementation is hobbled by rampant corruption in many Indian states, undivided Andhra Pradesh was an exception. The poor were demanding and obtaining work through the scheme, and the targeting of resources to the poor is being effectively implemented in the state. Women, Scheduled Caste groups and Scheduled Tribes, the most oppressed sections of society, freely participate in a programme that aims to alleviate the misery of citizens. Successful programmes such as this highlight the triumph of citizen formation over patronclient politics, aided by a democratic politics.

This article argues that the success of MGNREGS in undivided Andhra Pradesh depended heavily on ideas within the bureaucracy and the capacity of the subnational state, especially in the ability of Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, to insulate a committed rural development bureaucracy from powerful farmers who had a clear interest in thwarting the programme. It highlights the role of state capacity in installing an architecture that checked corruption, and even strategically exploited actors in society to achieve its ends. It argues that elections in a democracy have the potential to elevate citizen concern over particularistic populism driven by ethnic considerations that have characterised large parts of India. This becomes possible when ideational conviction within a bureaucracy is matched with political will. Democratic politics is not all about the capture of the state by vested interests when politicians and technocrats find it rational to help the poor.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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