How do Panchayats work: Exploring clientelistic and programmatic transactions in Gram Panchayats of Karnataka

Indian Journal of Human Development,


People in rural India routinely experience a vast difference between what is promised by the state and what is realised on the ground. Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) enable a broad spectrum of actors to be involved in planning the activities of the local state and holding the bureaucracy accountable for their actions at this level. While literature shows that clientelism is pervasive and affects the performance of PRIs adversely, there are pockets of evidence where programmatic transactions regularly occur. I use programmatic and clientelistic transactions as ideal types of outcomes and exploring how these transactions are engendered through a comparative study of two Gram Panchayats with similar institutional settings using ethnographic materials. Together with institutional design and economic factors, differences in local political dynamics affect development outcomes. Individualistic and loyalty-driven leadership prompts symbiotic relationships with bureaucrats, whereas cadre-based leadership prefers control and scrutiny. The expectations of villagers from their panchayat are also shaped by these political traits. In the first scenario, bureaucracy uses procedural compliance to hide clientelist decisions from scrutiny, whereas in the second, it is used to demonstrate neutrality in decision making.