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

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Resolving Disagreements in Panchayats

Elected Representatives and Local Bureaucracy Interface in West Bengal

Based on the long-term ethnographic research in four districts during a political transition in West Bengal and analysing narratives of disagreements between elected representatives and local bureaucrats in their gram panchayats, it is argued that the interface between the elected members and the bureaucracy is dialectical and is influenced by external as well as local contexts. Conflicting demands from stakeholders as well as factors like conflict, violence, elite control, and resistance from certain sections of the society could result in such disagreements. While there are instances of political “deep probe” in local bureaucracy, resultant decisions are often unpredictable and can come through unforeseen mechanisms. Informal mechanisms of resolution of disagreements, often associated with corruption, are either challenged by the counterpublics or give rise to an altered form of corruption to adjust itself to the process of political change.

 

In this paper, we study the mechanisms by which political disagreements are addressed by elected representatives and bureaucrats in panchayats and, in turn, the effect of such disagreements on the local policy decisions. Elected representatives and the bureaucracy are the two major actors in any local government institutional network. Political disagreements between these key actors often affects the process of decision-making (Oosterwaal et al 2011). Scholars have reflected on the interplay of differences in decision-making and the context of local history where tradition and electoral systems have significant influence over such disagreements (Jatto et al 2013; Warioba 2008). While the dichotomy remains (Stocker and Thompson-Fawcett 2014), disagreements can have positive effects on decisions (Hammond and Knott 1996) or can have negative effects on the outcomes (Thomson and Torenvlied 2010).

There are models of politics/administration dichotomies and complementarities with limited explanatory capacities (Stocker and Thompson-Fawcett 2014), but factors that result in positive or negative outcomes of political disagreements are largely unknown (Franchino 2004; Huber and Shipan 2002; Thomson and Torenvlied 2010). Scholars have shown how elected members often carry power over the bureaucracy within constitutional arrangements and the ways in which bureaucratic leaders handle conflicting demands (Page and Jenkins 2005; Christensen and Opstrup 2018). The exact process of how political disagreement translates to the degree of discretion available to the local government institutions remains unresolved (Oosterwaal et al 2011).

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Published On : 23rd Feb, 2024

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