Accepted paper:

Creation and Withdrawal of Participatory Spaces in the Gram Panchayats of West Bengal, India

Authors:

Debjani Dasgupta (University of Sheffield)
Glyn Williams (University of Sheffield)

Paper short abstract:

This paper tries to identify the factors causing creation and withdrawal of participatory spaces (signified by the Village Development Committees), with the potential to forge new forms of participation and representation in the context of Gram Panchayats (village councils) of West Bengal in India.

Paper long abstract:

Participatory spaces have often been understood in terms of spaces for deliberations generating possibilities of resistance to challenge and reframe dominant discourses, and/or spaces that enable the masses to assert their active citizenship rights. In this context, local governance structures emerge as the key terrain that extends opportunities to the citizens of participating directly in the decision-making processes of the state institutions by engaging in public deliberations, and forming associational ties. This paper is trying to understand the factors causing creation and withdrawal of participatory spaces (signified by the Village Development Committees), with the potential to forge new forms of participation and representation in the context of Gram Panchayats (village council) in the Indian state of West Bengal, over the last two decades. Using the interpretive strategy of case-study analysis (examining the strategic case of West Bengal), this research draws on analysis of policy discourses, semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with stakeholders at different levels (community representatives to state level policy makers) as evidences to provide better insight to context-specific causal processes. The findings of this research point towards a unilateral decision on the part of the state-level policy-makers to create and subsequently withdraw the participatory spaces for the masses. This move reflected authoritarian trends to suit elite purposes and led to shrinkage of spaces for deliberation and informed public debates at the grassroots. Consequently, this paper claims that representational practices in micro-institutions are inextricably linked to structural power relations and macro-level political changes.

panel A07
Creating participatory spaces and claiming citizenship in development practice